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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 29 · Number 3 · Spring 2012


Cooks on fire

Students get a crash course in kitchen survival.

College students are hungry. After all the easy meals have disappeared — the ones that involve getting somebody else to prepare their food — students finally have to cook something for themselves. As parents, we have only two words of advice: Ha, ha!

Illustration: young cook at stove, with flames leaping and smoke billowing from fry pan

(Illustration by Jay Leek/UC Davis)

Of course, some kids already know their way around the kitchen. They have a deep fat fryer, and they're not afraid to use it. But many college students are culinary beginners who are about to learn a few sweet lessons in independent living.

Here are some recipes to share with your starving student:

Recipe for humble pie

When you move into your very first apartment, tell your parents how excited you are at the prospect of preparing your own meals. Tell them you no longer want a dining commons contract because you can make tastier, healthier food yourself for less money.

Plan your meals, shop for groceries, tally your food budget, put away the groceries, cook, clean burned crud off pots, store leftovers. Yell at your roommates when they help themselves to your leftovers. Repeat day after day after day, until unsavory doubts begin to curdle your enthusiasm. Begin the slow, dispiriting descent into the college student staple: instant ramen noodles eaten from a dirty bowl. Yell at your roommates when they help themselves to your leftovers.

Experience a sudden epiphany that someone has been providing you with hot, healthy meals for your entire life, and you've been taking that for granted. Hit No. 1 on your speed dial, and tell the owner of your family's favorite pizzeria how grateful you are for years of sustenance.

Then call your parents and ask if they'll fork over some dough to buy you a dining commons contract. Try the humble pie.

Tastes like crow!

Recipe for poor health

Forget cooking. Survive solely on toaster pastries, microwavable stuffed sandwiches and energy drinks.

The Pop-Tarts are done when flames shoot out of the toaster.

Recipe for independence

Call your mom at work to inquire about mushrooms. While standing in the produce section of the grocery store, right next to the criminis, shitakes and portobellos, ask her what kind should go on top of the homemade pizza you are preparing tonight for your new girlfriend. If your mom whispers quietly that she is in a meeting right now, and will have to call you back later, you can ask a supermarket employee instead.

Or you could just text your mom. How hard could it be for her to reply to you under the table during her meeting? You're practically doing her a favor. It's probably a boring meeting anyway.

Text multiple inquiries to mom regarding tomato sauce, garlic, onions, olives, cheese, yeast, flour and olive oil. When you get home from the store, call again to ask what it means to let the dough rest. What size do you chop the onions? How do you shred mozzarella without a grater? What if you forgot to buy basil?

Later that evening, tell your sweetie you made the pizza all by yourself.

For dessert, continue to fudge about your skills in the kitchen.

Recipe for disaster

Plan a vegetarian dinner party with your roomies. Borrow your neighbor's blender to prepare butternut squash soup. Puree the hot squash mixture in the blender. Scrape the yellow chunks off the wall and ceiling. Write a reminder for next time to put the lid on the blender first.

Pour pasta into a pot of water and bring to a boil. Read the directions on the side of the box that instruct you to bring the water to a boil before adding the pasta. Serve bloated, gummy noodles that cling together like a ball of wet yarn.

Make brownies for dessert. Discover that college students, with only mild complaints, will eat brownies that are burnt on top and runny in the middle.

If you can't stand defeat, stay out of the kitchen.

Recipe for indigestion

Move to a big old house off campus with six guys, including a roommate from Alabama who has custom cutlery, a secret family recipe for pork rub and a charcoal smoker grill big enough to cook a whole hog. Decide as a group that you are, in fact, going to smoke a whole hog. Get started early on a Saturday afternoon.

About 100 pounds of charcoal later, around midnight, sit down on the only lawn chair that didn't get torched by the grease fire and enjoy the best pork you've ever eaten. Discover that late-night digestion prevents sweet dreams.

Cooking is like comedy: Timing is everything.

Recipe for shoe shoppers

Blow your whole month's food budget on a new pair of shoes. Again. Survive on beans until your next cash infusion.

Open the beans with a can opener. You know what a can opener looks like, right? Remember, it's not the same thing as a bottle opener. For further clarification, ask Siri, your iPhone virtual assistant.

If you eat the beans directly out of the can while leaning over the sink, you won't have to wash a plate.

Recipe for holiday discord

Return home from college during break and announce that you no longer eat meat, dairy or any ingredients derived from animals, including honey, because you cannot support a system of food production that is tasty and oppresses worker bees. Inform your loved ones of the nutritional, environmental and dogmatic advantages of veganism. After you have explained the benefits of a vegan diet, make it clear you believe that anyone who doesn't embrace it could only be a selfish dimwit.

When your extended family gathers to share a holiday meal, ask the selfish dimwits at the table to please pass the salad. Pick out the lumps of blue cheese from the salad greens and lay them on the damask napkin next to your salad plate. If Great-aunt Rosa asks what in the world you are doing, storm off to the kitchen and prepare yourself a raw hemp and Klamath algae protein shake.

Bon appétit!

Humor writer Robin DeRieux can be reached at