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Friday, 31 May 2013

The Rise and Fall of a Kitchen Goddess

I began the spring semester of my second year at university with the firm resolve to be a kitchen goddess. Four months before, I had finally moved out of the residence halls into a stylish little apartment (albeit university-owned), and I was still enormously excited at the thought of having a proper "home" with lots of space to entertain, and without having to rely on the campus cafeteria for my meals.

I pored over recipe books like "The Bean Book" and "Vegetarian Meals in Minutes" (acquired during Christmas break back home in England) with all the joy of a 1950s housewife. I made menus and shopping lists and planned dinner parties.

"Just wait," smiled my senior-class friends knowingly. "You'll soon be living off Ramen and sandwiches like the rest of us."


I promised myself I wouldn't sink to that level. For the first few weeks of the semester, I made big dishes of lasagna, pots of soup and curry, fancy salads, and fussy burgers from scratch. When my housemates came home at lunch with ready-made meals from the cafeteria, or quickly grabbed a hunk of bread and a banana on their way out to nursing clinicals, I felt a certain secret self-righteousness at the colourful, home-cooked goodness on my dinner plate.

But the semester grew busier, and an ever-increasing pile of reading and papers to write left me little time for being a kitchen goddess. Instead of fresh ingredients for elaborate meals, I began to stock up on Japanese soba noodles (only 4 minutes to cook and delicious!) and packets of Chinese soup powder (apparently very healthy, but not so delicious). Still, it wasn't Ramen! The kitchen goddess could retain some of her pride!

It was a dinner party that finally destroyed that pride. "Ah, the thoughtfulness of my teachers!" I groaned to my roommate. "It's Sunday and I have a book to finish, two papers to write, mid-term exam review to begin, two online modules to complete, and those awful Spanish grammar exercises. Plus I'm having people over tonight and I haven't even begun cooking!" I was stressed out and annoyed at life, but, being a perfectionist, I was determined to finish all my homework, cook something for the week ahead, and still serve up a beautiful dinner (including dessert).

It didn't happen. I left my lasagna and garlic bread in the oven for so long while I tried to finish my reading that the lasagna dried out and the bread began to burn. I steamed the accompanying vegetables until they were limp. I gave up on dessert altogether, discovering at the last minute that I'd forgotten to buy some key ingredients. When my guests arrived, instead of encountering the nicely laid and decorated table and the smiling, relaxed host that I'd planned on, they found homework strewn all over the room (never mind just the table), an aroma of charcoal in the air, and their host close to tears of frustration.

The Ramen and sandwiches that I had the next week were very nice.

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