There are close to 40 of us living in the Vines—the massive house owned by our study abroad program—and no such thing as pre-made dorm food. As a result, this has been the first time that I’ve had to buy and cook all my own food.
While I’ve appreciated my university’s cafeteria for the last two years, it has been a relief to make my own food. Dorm food serves its purpose, but aside from Biola’s Mexican food (the highlight of my dorm-food experience), mass-produced chicken sandwiches and poorly-cooked vegetables grow unappetizing very quickly.
It has been an interesting experience to buy and make my own food for the first time, especially in a foreign country. I’ve had to learn not only about British brands, but deal with British-American translations. For example, there is no such thing as “powdered sugar” at Tesco, or even “confectioner’s sugar.” I stood in front of the sugar shelves, trying to decide what “caster sugar” was, before finally asking an employee. I had to explain to him that I wanted the sugar that is used to sprinkle over cakes before he understood what I wanted: in the UK, it’s called “icing sugar.” I’ve also had trouble finding basic ingredients such as chicken broth, black beans, shortening, molasses and cornmeal. I’m getting very good at figuring out substitutions.
Because the academic load is so intense, SSO (Scholar’s Semester at Oxford) suggested at the beginning of term that everyone break up into “food groups.” The idea is that a group of 8-10 people get together and schedule dinners so that only one or two people buy and cook food for any given meal. This saves money, because you only have to purchase large chunks of food every once in a while. More importantly (especially for us students), it saves time, because you only have to cook a meal about once per week. There’s also the added bonus of eating home-cooked food every night and good company to enjoy it with.
My food group, cleverly named “Of Rice and Men,” consists of nine people. I have enjoyed not only tasting the various dishes, but sharing my own recipes with the group. My grandma’s gingerbread was a big hit, and I received lots of compliments on the chicken tortilla soup I made a few weeks ago.
Cooking for a group of nine people (four of whom are guys), means that there are hardly ever left-overs. After I made a huge bowl of chinese chicken salad a few weeks ago, there was only a small portion left to put in the refrigerator, and that was gone before midnight.
Last night after a delicious dinner of chicken parmesan made by one of the girls, I decided to make us all pumpkin cookies for dessert. With some of the treasured pumpkin puree my mom sent me in the mail, I turned out a batch of 35 pumpkin cookies. They were delicious, topped with a sugar iced glaze, and I brought the plate around to everyone before setting the rest on the kitchen table.
It’s a great compliment to my baking skills that they were gone in minutes. One of the guys later told me that he ate five of them, and personally, I don’t blame him. They were decadent.