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I took my girls shopping for boogie boards the other day. I walked into the store and discovered that summer was over. Too bad I wasn’t shopping for dorm supplies: twin bed sheets, color-coordinated towel sets and bright plastic baskets for lugging toiletries down the hall were everywhere. I was immediately taken back to my own freshman year of college. I remember exactly what I was wearing (a blue sweater and flowy skirt that projected confidence in my 17-year-old mind) when we pulled up to my assigned dorm, Hamilton Hall. Mom took pictures of me making up my bed with my new twin sheets (extra long), and I placed unused pens, pencils and erasers neatly along the top of my desk. I set up a gift from my mom: a manual typewriter (the kind where the “k” and “b” keys would get stuck and I’d have to pop them back into ready position), a few spare ink ribbons and a tiny box of white out sheets. (No, this wasn’t a vintage objet d’art; this was the actual typewriter I would use all freshman year. I am that old.)
What followed was four years of studying, but also friendships made, laughter shared, milestones achieved (and others, missed) and lots of cooking. I cooked from the minute I landed in Hamilton Hall and made my first stroganoff in a hotpot. Later, in my sorority house, I hung out in the kitchen with Linda, the cook, and even signed up for KP duty once a week, my first pro gig in the kitchen I suppose. When I lived in an apartment junior year, I cooked so much that my roommates and I couldn’t eat all the food, so I would deliver random care packages to friends all around campus.
I get the appeal of the late-night gyro stand visit, the microwave nachos (chips, cheese, salsa — done!) and the midnight gravy-fry craving. Still, consider taking with you a few easy, inexpensive recipes that can punctuate the spaces between delivered pizzas. Nothing overwhelming, I promise. May I suggest for a starter recipe my Green Morning Smoothie (pictured above)? (Note: They can be consumed anytime; I realize mornings may be a rarity for some of you for awhile.) All you need is a mini blender and you are good to go. In a pinch, if your dorm room doesn’t have a fridge, pick up some Tetra Pak milks and powdered greens and you won’t even be lying when you tell your mom that you ate your vegetables. If you’re looking to make a “real” meal, try my 4-Step Chicken. It’s especially great for a date — it’s the first meal I ever made in 2000 for my boyfriend Philippe and we just celebrated 10 years of marriage. Instead of ramen noodles, pick up a box of whole grain pasta and make my Crisper Drawer Pasta with whatever leftovers you have lurking in the fridge (make sure they are safe). And of course, enjoy yourselves: Make friends that will come to your wedding and whose kids will meet your kids one day; take classes that will change the way you look at the world and treasure this time when you get to focus on you becoming you. Feed your body well, at least most (half?) of the time.
As you pack your bags, load up the SUVs, borrow rooftop storage bins and head to school, I offer you one final piece of (unsolicited) advice: If you are going to the trouble of going to class, sit in one of the first three rows. It’s just easier to get A’s there.
Editor’s Note: The three recipes Melissa mentions above, including Crisper Drawer Pasta, are all available in Melissa’s cookbook, Ten Dollar Dinners — a great resource for college students on a budget.