Spending the summer in Ithaca to enjoy the only two months of warm weather here is number 31 on the list of 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do. I can proudly say that I’ve accomplished the feat this summer, and did it in a small two bedroom apartment with no AC to boot. The warm weather did little to ease the stuffy heat of the place, which directly faces the sun and held no relief from the most humid and hellish of days, but I like to think I learned a lot more in the tiny kitchen of that apartment because of the temperature. Simple lessons that I should’ve learned a long time ago stuck with me due to the heat, and here are just a few of them:
1. Sauces and seasonings are everything.
When my roommate and I first started getting everything together for our new kitchen, I was surprised to see how many sauces and spices we had accumulated in just a few trips to the store. And we used every single one too! Flavor is so much more than just a little salt and pepper. It really is the seasoning that brings out the best in a dish, and when you’re a college kid working with the most basic ingredients, flavor is everything.
2. Baking powder is NOT the same thing as baking soda.
I will fully admit I’m a bit of a baking noob. The most advanced thing I regularly make at home is boxed cornbread, which my parents love, so attempting to make a peach cobbler from scratch here in my apartment in Ithaca turned out to be a big lesson in reading all parts of the instructions very carefully, and not trying to outsmart the recipe by substituting one thing for another without knowing what either of them do. This is a bit of an embarrassing lesson at this age, but better late than never, right?
3. If you cook in your apartment without AC, it turns into a sauna.
With the stove on, oven preheating, and rice cooking on the counter nearby, an already steamy apartment turns into a full-on pool of sweat and tears with no relief in sight. After awhile, I ended up taking all the fans we had in the apartment and plugging them in by the entrance of the kitchen, having them all blow warm air at full blast while I was cooking. Better than nothing, I guess, but I eventually resigned to the fact that I would always have to enjoy my homemade meals moist and sweaty from the heat.
4. Wegmans is heaven on Earth, especially in a place like Ithaca.
The lack of places to go in Ithaca can be disappointing (looking at you, Ithaca Mall), but Wegmans will never disappoint. My weekly trip to Wegmans became a highlight of the summer because the store has everything you’ll ever need. My roommate and I stocked up on so many Wegmans-brand items we might as well have asked for a sponsorship. For the quality, price and convenience of the place, there really is no other grocery store that I’d rather shop at. Plus, Wegmans has recently stopped offering plastic bags and charges five cents for paper bags now. We love an Earth-loving superstore.
5. A head of cabbage lasts a long time.
Easily transformable into dishes for four or more meals, this vegetable became a staple in the apartment. I never got tired of stir-fry cabbage, which was so easy to make, and it only cost about $1.50 for a head. As the cabbage merchant from Avatar: The Last Airbender so eloquently puts it: my cabbages!
6. Eating out is a luxury, so treat yourself.
I had always felt the restaurants in Collegetown were mediocre at best, but after weeks of cooking for myself did I realize how much of a luxury eating out even in Collegetown is. I don’t have to wash the cups and plates afterwards, and restaurants serve dishes I could never make on my own. I’ve come to appreciate the different establishments around Collegetown that make trying a variety of food easy, and I’ll never take Mehak’s lunch buffet for granted ever again.
7. Mom’s recipes are harder to replicate than I thought, and I miss her home-cooking.
I appreciate you, mom. My tomato and eggs just doesn’t taste the same and I’m craving home-cooked food now more than ever. How do you always get the rice right? How come your chicken is never over-salted? I still have much to learn from you.
As I was compiling this list, I realized that while these are all basic lessons from a college student learning to cook on her own for the first time, they also signal the growth I went through in the two short months I was here during the summer. I went from making soggy rice and salty stir-frys to whipping up homemade turkey burgers, home fries and General Tso’s chicken without having to even glance at a recipe. My mom was impressed, and so were my taste buds! Cooking went from a tedious but necessary chore to a fun pastime that opened up multiple avenues of creativity. I don’t think I’ll be cooking nearly as much during the school year because I’m living on West Campus, but I’m already planning to take over some of my friends kitchens in Collegetown and corralling them to come with me to check off another item on the 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do: #61. Visiting Wegmans between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m.