Category Archives: Cooking

survival strategies

There’s a lot of things about summer internships that are analogous to summer camp. The uncomfortable beds, the in-the-trenches camaraderie with your fellows, the mentors that seem impossibly mature despite being only five years older, the bonfires and weenie roasts, etc. But unlike Camp Firstbasawassa, internships do not have a mess hall where you can line up for your thrice-daily dose of chicken tenders and chocolate milk. And if you’re working hard, and also broke, it’s hard to afford or remember to eat.

This is bad! You need to do it! What would the cool counselor with a hair wrap and camp-mandated long socks to hide her ankle tattoo say if she knew you were getting by on free break-room coffee and single-serving bags of Pirate’s Booty? You can’t be at the top of your interning game if you are starving. Maintaining stable blood sugar (and caffeine levels) is very important, but also very hard on a tiny budget and a sublet/dorm kitchen. I love cooking, but for whatever reason, having an Actual Job saps me of any desire to make stuff. But don’t let something like that stop you! Your resume says you’re detail-oriented and resourceful, after all.

you too can eat food that is not processed or disgusting or from a street cart!

You are going to have to cook for yourself, but in this case “cooking” means “chopping and occasionally boiling something or opening a can.” All you will really need is a way to boil water, a sharp knife, and assorted vessels to hold things (bonus points for a frying pan, but not strictly necessary). Take this shopping list as a template (meaning add in things you like and swap out stuff you hate) and watch it morph into many flexible meals. It’s also vegetarian, for simplicity’s sake, but if you really need meat, throw in some deli slices or precooked sausages or whatever. It will be more expensive, though.

  • Ground coffee
  • Milk of choice
  • Eggs
  • [Greek] yogurt
  • Bread product of choice (bagels, sandwich, pita, baguette, etc.)
  • Grain product of choice (rice, quinoa, couscous, bulgur, etc. Trader Joe’s sells some that are pre-cooked and frozen, if all you have is a microwave)
  • Legume protein of choice (beans, chickpeas, edamame, etc.)
  • Assorted vegetables you like to eat raw (tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, bell peppers, salad greens, etc. This would be something you could get at the farmers’ market)
  • Fruit types for snacks (again, farmers’ market! It is the cheapest and also best)
  • Lemons
  • Parsley, cilantro, dill, or another herb you like for salads
  • Cheese (I like having feta or goat for salads and also cheddar to just eat pieces of)
  • Avocado (optional but delicious)
  • Olive oil & salt & pepper (you may already possess)

Okay, see? Not too much! The gameplan is thus: a salad that will feed you for days. The formula is as follows:

[protein] + [grain] + [chopped vegetables] + [something creamy] + [chopped herb] + [lemon juice] + [oil, salt, pepper]

Not hard! Follow my lead. The hardest part is cooking up four-five servings of your grain (but see above re: prefab options). “Something creamy” refers to cheese or avocado, depending on what I have on hand. Also, sometimes I forget the herb altogether. Here are some combinations I have done:

  • Edamame, brown rice, radishes, cucumbers, avocado
  • Chickpeas, quinoa, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta
  • Black beans, brown rice, bell peppers, scallions, avocado
  • Hard-boiled eggs, quinoa, cherry tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, arugula
  • Black-eyed peas, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, haberneros (!!) (pictured above)
Once you have produced this several-portioned salad, pack it up in leftover takeout containers and stash it in your office fridge. Take advantage of that thing–lunch will await you there! I also keep my yogurt and fruit there so I can eat something quickly at 12:30 and put off lunch for three more hours while I fact-check. And! If you go to the farmers’ market en route to work, you can keep your kale in the fridge all day and no one will think you’re weird (yes they will)
As for the other meals in your life, I’ve covered breakfast elsewhere, and dinner can be whatever you have left at home that you haven’t yet eaten that day (scrambled eggs on toast! A grilled cheese sandwich! Frozen potstickers with that kale you bought! A bowl of popcorn and some whiskey!) Or, if you want to rationalize eating out, packing your lunch is a good way to do it. It’ll be expensive, but still better than the steam-table chicken nuggets of your youth.

turn, turn, turn

The weather this week! It has been of two minds. Likewise my food:

Sunday, it was Spring, so a frittata with actual asparagus. Because it’s here, it’s here, spring is finally coming back for real and asparagus is no-pun-intended springing up nearby! And frittatas are a great and easy kitchen-sink-y kind of meal strategy for when you have produce you don’t know what to do with (method: sauté things in ovenproof skillet, add shredded cheese, beat four eggs and dump ’em in, let the bottom get set, then pop into an oven at 375 and bake until puffed up and golden. Boom!)

Today: practically winter and a decidedly wintry root vegetable chili with some pumpkin biscuits (the pumpkin was supposed to go in the chili, but then my poor dutch oven was thisclose to no-pun-intended-again spilling the beans, so: carbs). My blood sugar while making this chili was so low that I forgot all the spices until it had been simmering for like 20 minutes and couldn’t figure out why it tasted so bland. A-durp durp.

Eating seasonally has all kinds of political, moral, organic-and-crunchy reasons going for it, but the reason I like doing it (besides the fact that I want as much of my food bux as possible to go directly to farmers) is because it’s a way to get in tune with things. Seasons are constantly changing, but they always change predictably, in a cycle. Medievals were up on it! Fortune was a wheel, turning: regnabo, regno, regnavi. Now things are more static, the changes unpredictable jolts, like a windowless office with a flickering fluorescent bulb. When I said today, perhaps with too much glee, that asparagus season was starting, I was met with replies like “I didn’t know asparagus had a season.”

Do people not read the Bible? Or listen to the Byrds? Spring isn’t just when flowers bloom and CVS runs out of Benadryl, it’s when green vegetables finally return and we can stop eating nothing but potatoes and turnips! If you buy all your produce vacuum-sealed at the Megamart, you are missing out, and missing the point. You won’t get excited about the return of spring because inside the produce section, it’s always spring. Which is both boring and eerie, if you think about it.

Anyway, the happy ending is that even though we had a warmish winter, crops don’t seem to be too worse for the wear. I have perused the weekly email from Green City Market, and you guys, microgreens! More asparagus! Rhubarb! Stuff is coming back to life, myself included, and I’m so excited that I have to listen to this movement of Carmina Burana while dreaming about compotes and vegetable tarts. Eeee.

spring break: diptychs & triptychs

(Apologies to my artist mother if these aren’t really triptychs. I guess I could be safe and call them collages, but I’ve never been one for a penny word when a 20-drachma one will do.)

I spent 24 hours (total) on the train up and down New York State (bottom left and right) on the way to Montreal (upper left). I’ve pretty much perfected the art of sleeping in a ball, plowing through a season of Fresh Meat on my laptop, and lying to customs about the amount of clementines in my backpack. Fruit smugglers forever!

I did a fair amount of classy-type eating à la carte: a pain de campagne from La Pâtisserie Belge in MTL, where I went pretty much daily for bread (and then stopped at Pikolo for an americano so as to get my heart beating again).

I threw together a rando salad at home of microgreens, oranges, bleu cheese, onions, hard boiled eggs, and lemon-thyme vinaigrette, which felt incredibly lefty and snooty but also delicious, so whatever. And today, I had a croissant date with my mom (with bonus souvenir coffee beans!) at Chestnut Hill Coffee, post-pheblotomy appointment (I may have fainted, alas).

Abroad, I had heartstopping amounts of pork at the Dépanneur Le Pick Up Cabane à Sucre Pork Club , which was five courses of wonderful. We started with a sweet-and-fatty lardo spread, with chunks of apple and onion, spread over pumpernickel, then pea soup that was pleasantly earthy and I didn’t hate (??). The salad was chicarrón (pork rinds!) in a spicy arugula (so it’s healthy!) and then, at last, came meat: a house-made sausage, maple-smoked pork, and pork belly confit, each of which was a different and incredible kind of savory-sweet. The baked beans (fèves au four?) were molassesy and thick, and I got to eat twice as much since my dining companion did not particular care for them (again, ??). Two shots, as well: vodka with the lardo (na zdrowie!) and white chocolate with bacon for dessert. So fun, so tasty, and I got to chat with Chef Szef Bartek, a very cool guy who gave me some tips on making the confit (apparently not that hard? ça s’peut…)

Also: Portguesey rotisserie chicken that was buried in peppery fries, from a corner joint that reminded me very much of Calvin Trillin (long line, no plates). And watched (but did not help) Shannon eat a biscotti (biscotto?) roughly the size of her head.

Drinks: Victory Lager, Blood Orange Gin Sparkler, Bulleit Rye (which tastes good and doesn’t burn, so, win!).

On the porch! On my parents’ dime! With New Yorkers to read! I might die from all the luxury!!

And! Two pairs of homemade socks, from my lovely Aunt E., that I wore almost without pause while home. I don’t care if I got weird stares from a gaggle of middle schoolers at the Hunger Games* when I wore them in a pair of Crocs-clogs and shorts. It’s a look.

Back to Chicago, butt-early o’clock tomorrow. On the plus side: Green City Day and Joy the Baker, so sleep up, kids!

*Which, OMG. Katniss!