Learning To Cook In College Gave Me Comfort In An Unfamiliar Place

Learning To Cook In College Gave Me Comfort In An Unfamiliar Place

On making half-baked pseudo-fusion food.


After one semester of Stony Brook's dining plan, I was in despair. So in the spring of freshman year, I fled the interminable parade of oily, overcooked vegetables and clumpy undercooked rice that passed for dining hall food in favor of a room in West Apartments. There, limited in both time and knowledge, I began to experiment with fusion food.

It was mostly unintentional. For example, I came up with quinoa biryani after I ran out of rice one weekend. Adding basil pasta sauce to my sambar was a last-minute substitution after my tomato got squished by a jar of peanut butter. On the other end, my agave-less attempt at agave-apple tarts tasted really bland (agave is expensive and I am a college student, not Ina Garten), so I substituted with a bit of cardamom. It was delicious. I then began adding cardamom, that staple of Indian sweetmeats, to everything from chocolate cake to ice cream.

Of course, there have been some less than successful creations. The one that still haunts my taste buds is an attempt at making fig and butternut squash soup with chili peppers. It does not taste anywhere near as good as it sounds. Yet my biggest limitation is the cold. A lot of South Indian cooking relies on fermentation and is very difficult to ferment things that would sooner freeze in a Long Island winter. My attempts making a decent adhirasam will be on hold until the coming summer, it seems.

Spices were even harder to master. My lemon rice initially reeked of ginger, and all the curries I made that first February tasted like leaves. Leaves. It was downright disgusting and I made sure to use less ashwagandha the next time around.

Then there was the time I mistook iodized salt for asafoetida…

I still persisted, though. Home had never felt farther than during the windy Long Island winters, and I longed for food that would warm my soul as much as it would nourish my body. Through the tears and occasional dry heaving, my cooking slowly began taking on a semblance of taste, then flavor, before blossoming into deliciously divine-smelling dishes. As time passed, I became more comfortable with the bevy of spices that now occupy pride of place in my dorm kitchen.

I personally believe that there is nothing quite as traditional as learning to cook from scratch. When I was little, I used to be in awe of my mother. Standing over the stovetop, she would toss pinches of multicolored powder into a steel pressure cooker with what appeared to be unsystematic abandon. Yet no matter how haphazard the process looked, the final product was always delicious (unless it involved bitter gourd — I despise bitter gourd).

Whether it was pongal glistening with ghee, pulikolambu with tamarind chunks half-submerged in bubbling red liquid, or perfectly rounded panniyaram studded with slivers of onions like amethysts, nearly every meal was homemade Indian food.

Before going off to college, I asked her for recipes. She gave me some vague lists of ingredients and a boxful of old jam jars filled with spices. The only specific measurement she gave me was a warning to not eat more than one clove of garlic a day. I was disappointed, halted in my pursuit of flavors from a time when I was not mired in midterms. For me, learning to cook Indian food was less about returning to my roots and more about finding comfort in an unfamiliar place.

Now, when my friends ask how I cook, I give them the same blank stare my mother used to direct at me. Perhaps the reason why she never gives me definitive recipes is because she doesn't have any, having herself learned from a mix of error and observation. She admits that before living on her own, she had rarely cooked and couldn't tell the difference between mung and masoor dal if her life depended on it. My grandmother was similar, only learning when circumstances forced her to be the one to feed her family. Sure, ingredients were mentioned and discussed, but the exact specifics were up to the cook's temperament.

For example, my mother experiments with avocado, grapeseed, and lemon-infused oils while my grandmother prefers the simpler sunflower or peanut ones. I personally swear by coconut and olive. I also usually use rolled oats as a base, while my mother prefers millets and my grandmother prefers rice. Neither my mother or grandmother trusts microwaves, and both would be horrified to learn that I make six-minute sweet potato aloo gobi in one.

The authenticity of food is not determined by whether it is made in an iron griddle over a kerosene flame, a steel pan over an electric stove, or a dorm room microwave. It is in the way the rice melts on your tongue in a burst of tomato and onion, the crisp sound of lady's fingers simmering in cooking oil and ground peppers. The brilliant greens, golds, and vermillion of the vegetables, and the rich aroma of turmeric and coriander that wafts from your fingertips, wrapping you in a comforting familiarity.

I am a time-strapped college student. Sometimes it's all I can do to heat a bowl of oats with onion, frozen peas, and spices before running to my next lecture.

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How To Play 'New Girl's' True American Drinking Game

"It's 75% drinking, 20% Candy Land, and the floor is molten lava."

I think it's fair to say that anyone who watches "New Girl" knows about True American. This crazy, nonsense drinking game which pops up every so often throughout the seasons and first introduced in season one, episode 20.

The game, as described by "New Girl" character and fan-favorite Schmidt, is 75% drinking game and 20% Candy Land with a floor of molten lava.

The point of the game is for players to navigate through the Candy Land-like spaces to the "castle," which is a table in the center of the room that holds beer "pawns" and the "king" bottle. The first person to reach and sip from the bottle wins.

SEE ALSO: 15 Things "New Girl" Fans Know to Be True

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Here's how to play:

Step #1: Prepare the "castle"

First, set up your "castle." The castle is made up of beer "pawns" and the "king," a bottle filled with the alcohol of your choice.

The bottle should be in the middle of the table, surrounded by four lines of beer pawns. There is no exact number of beers necessary for each line of beer pawns. Choose any amount of beers that seems appropriate for the amount of players.

Step #2: Set up spaces

Set up spaces using pillows, chairs or any other objects players will be able to stand on. Place an equal amount of spaces around the table. You'll want about 5-8 spaces on each side, depending on the size of the room you're playing in.

Only four of these spaces should reach the castle, lining up with the parade of beer "pawns" and allowing players to take a beer pawn from the castle. For example, in the photo above, each of the chairs touch a corner of the table at the end of the line of beer pawns. Therefore, these are two of the four special spaces that allow players to take a beer. Unlike the pillows pictured, which are just regular spaces that the players can use to move around.

Step #3: Pick teams

Teams are optional. To pick teams, all of the players will place a certain number (1 to 5) of fingers against their forehead on the count of three.

Any players who hold up the same number are a team. Unmatched players can team up as needed or simply pair up with the person standing closest to them.

Step #4: Begin

Begin with a shotgun "tip-off" to determine which player goes first.

The winner of this shotgunning contest will yell, "One, two, three...JFK!" to announce the official beginning of the game. All players will enthusiastically respond, "FDR!" then quickly grab a beer pawn from the castle and run to any space they wish to start at, excluding for the four special spaces that reach the castle.

Step #5: Make moves

The winner of the shotgunning contest has earned the first turn. From then on, the order of turns will move in a clockwise rotation. During each turn, the player will move one space toward the castle and choose to play one of the following mini-games.

Mini-game No. 1: The player whose turn it is will count to three then all players will place a certain number (1-5) of fingers on their forehead. Any player who selects a number no one else selected can move ONE space.

Mini-game No. 2: The player whose turn it is will recite the beginning of a famous American quote. The first player to complete the quote can move TWO spaces.

Mini-game No. 3: The player whose turn it is will name two famous American people, places, or things. The first player to identify what the two have in common can move THREE spaces.

For example, say it's your turn. You will move one space then choose one of the three mini-games. You and all of the players will participate in that game, and the winner will move accordingly. After this, your turn is over and it's the next player's turn (in the original clockwise rotation).

Step #6: "Play on, playa."

Continue playing by these rules until one lucky winner reaches the bottle and sips from its royal glass.

The bottle cannot be opened until every last pawn is removed from the castle. Any players who fail to keep at least one beer in hand, who accidentally end up with more than three beers in hand, or who touch the lava are immediately disqualified. Disqualified players can rejoin the game by shotgunning a beer.


You are now able to impress all of your "New Girl"-loving friends with knowledge of the workings of the epic True American drinking game. Know your limits, drink responsibly, and enjoy!

Cover Image Credit: i.amz.mshcdn.com

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Excellent Advice From Unexpected Places

Who thought aliens from a silly space app could give good advice. Welcome to Walkr.


GI recently got a pedometer app (a step tracker) called Walkr: Fitness Space Adventure. Along with tracking your steps, it unlocks planets that have little alien inhabitants. These creatures send you messages occasionally, some silly, some helpful, and everything in between. I thought I would share with you my favorites thus far. Here are my top 15 inspirational messages from aliens:

1. When you are doubting yourself...

Maddy McKeever

Zombies love you for who you are, no matter what.

2. Take care of those you love...

Maddy McKeever

No one deserves to be sad. Especially the moon who is the light of your night.

3. I love eating...

Maddy McKeever

Envy is a deadly sin, but ice cream is not. Snowmen know sometimes you need a snack.

4. There are no shortcuts in life...

Maddy McKeever

Shortcuts in life leave you shorthanded and unprepared. Be the diamond in the rough, or the pearl.

5. Eat your vegetables...

Maddy McKeever

Take care of your body and it will take care of you. And avoid space pirates.

6. Take time to take care of yourself...

Maddy McKeever

Little things for self care can make a big difference. Musical Andrew reminds you to eat and drink lots of water.

7. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes...

Maddy McKeever

Walking help you clear your head, and gives you a reason to get out of the house if you don't have a dog that wants to go to the park.

8. Where words fail, music speaks...

Maddy McKeever

Bon Jovi probably liked space. Express yourself with music, or tune out the world to take care of yourself.

9. Don't trust strangers...

Maddy McKeever

Don't take food from strangers unless it's Halloween. And don't follow them into the woods, even if they are trees.

10. School is a necessary evil...

Maddy McKeever

School may seem like torture now, but you'll be grateful you did it when you are older, even if you want to set your work on fire right now.

11. Never stop believing...

Maddy McKeever

Keep hope and imagination in your heart and you will feel young forever.

12. Sometimes it's about the journey, not the destination...

Maddy McKeever

It's not always about progress, but about the process, even if the idea of success tastes sweet.

13. Success is relative to each of us...

Maddy McKeever

Your idea of being courageous may not be the same as someone else's, but that doesn't make their any less valid a success.

14. Don't let others hold you back...

Maddy McKeever

We all want to escape to a different continent, or even a different planet sometimes. Take a moment and breathe. You've got this.

15. Don't judge a book by it's cover...

Maddy McKeever

Some people that look odd on the outside may be diamonds in the rough. But don't forget also that some people who look harmless can secretly bite.

Some of this advice may seem silly, but rooted deep in it can be found inspirational advice. You may not see it now, but when you need to hear it, that advice becomes very clear. Who knew that a ball of ghost fire or a sugar cube could give such good advice? I hope at least one of these little aliens gave you some useful inspiration today.

For other enjoyable apps to stay healthy, including Walkr, see this article.

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