This is the first of a series written by freshmen A.G. Pelham and Sydney Rubin about the freshman experience as it relates to food.
Our first weekend at Tufts, the Tilton kitchen saw its first dinner party of the year. We hardly knew each other then but we were brought together by 4 pounds of pasta, 3 basil plants (one named Gerald), and 20 borrowed forks from Dewick, among other ingredients for a pasta dinner. It turns out that 4 pounds of pasta isn’t enough to feed a floor of hungry freshman but the dinner was successful in other ways. People began to feel comfortable around each other and we were united by food. As freshman, getting used to college life is not just about navigating the dining hall, it’s learning being on your own and how to take advantage of opportunities. And one of those opportunities is to cook and eat together.
AG: When I decided to go to college in New England, I knew that it was going to be a completely new and very exciting experience, but I didn’t quite realize how much I was going to miss the South. As a life-long Alabamian, I never really appreciated or, to be honest, was a huge fan of most Southern food. However, I have always loved grits and having them on Sunday mornings is something I have really missed at Tufts. So, when Sydney and I were deciding what to cook we thought it would be fun to have Southern night.
Well, Southern night wound up being nachos and grits. Sydney and I were quite surprised when people gave us weird looks when they found out the combination. We all eat a completely random array of food every day at the dining hall because there are so many options, so why not eat like that when we cook?
We went to Shaws to get ingredients and were quite successful, but I had to have my dad ship me the grits from home because they aren’t even sold in most grocery stores up North. It’s always a very unique experience to cook dinner in a dorm’s common kitchen. We all pool our cooking supplies and eventually wind up with an interesting, but functional selection of supplies. My favorite moment of the evening though was seeing someone chopping onions, using a plate as a cutting board, with a dinner knife. Effective? Yes. Efficient? Not so much. Such is the life of a freshman college student.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much my “Yankee” and international friends liked the cheese grits I made. They were confused at first as to what grits are (they are made from coarsely ground corn and, when cooked, become very creamy) and then they were confused as to why you would put cheese in something that they could only think of as similar to oatmeal. However, they all understood when they actually got to taste the creamy, cheesy goodness that is my beloved grits. I was so happy that everyone liked the grits and felt like I could share a part of my history and culture with my new friends through cooking.
Sydney: I know that nachos are not a Southern food. Really. My excuse for making them on what AG was calling “Southern night” is that… well, Mexico is still south of us, right? And yes, the only reason I got away with that one is because I had a recipe for nachos from the head chef of a catering company. She happens to be my mom.
It’s not that tortilla chips and toppings need a special recipe to be really good. Mom’s never made nachos at home, so it’s not a nostalgic dish. The recipe isn’t even from a time when she was cooking professionally. But it was something I’ve never done before, was easy and fun, and most importantly it was something my mom often made when she was my age as a college student in Texas. In my mind, it was a way to get closer to her in an entirely new way. Though our college experiences will be entirely different, it’s a little thing we can share.
Now that I think about that dinner, though, I’m not thinking so much about Mom. I’m thinking about what a cool idea AG had to sear the chicken in lime juice and taco seasoning; I’m thinking about how smart it was to buy Cabot pepper jack cheese (Vermont pride!) instead of cheese and jalapenos separately; I’m thinking about how fun it was to go grocery shopping and cook with my friends. We layered tortilla chips, grated cheese, black beans, the shredded chicken tenders, chopped red and green peppers, and diced onions and broiled it all until the cheese got crispy and brown. I was amazed that such a simple dish (and, actually, one made with some of my least favorite ingredients) could be so delicious and fun to eat. They probably didn’t turn out like my mom’s nachos, and I doubt they will become a traditional college dish for me at Tufts like they were for her. But I feel that I’m well on my way to creating my own food traditions.
I’m also thankful for my unlimited meal plan, even though I was cooking. Grits and nachos followed by Dewick sundaes? Yes please.
-A.G. Pelham & Sydney Rubin