I like to cook. But even so, as a full time student, with classes, exams, homework, and labs, a lot of the time, I can’t think of anything I want to do less than go home and make something involving any more effort than one pan, a handful of ingredients, and fifteen minutes.
There is a time and place for ambitious recipes. That time is not in the half hour you have to make and eat food when you’re exhausted and on the verge of passing out in a chair, and that place is not in your probably depressing, tiny campus kitchen. So something quick and easy, filling, and with a few vegetables so you don’t get scurvy and die.
So what do you make? An omelette? Nah, that’s far too put together and fancy for the zombie that is a college student. So the clear solution is to make what’s basically the exact same thing, except less pretty: the breakfast scramble.
Bless the breakfast scramble, that supreme god king of foods. You’re always there for me when I need you.
Throw some stuff in a pan. Onions, mushrooms, maybe, spinach, basil. Cook them. Beat your eggs, maybe with some milk or half and half or cream or water, if you swing that way. (Don’t use milk. Don’t be that guy) Add your beaten eggs – which any self respecting college student will whisk with a fork and not an actual whisk, because who the hell has the motivation to get a whisk? – to the stuff in the pan. Add some cheese, maybe. Season. I will fight anyone that tries to tell you that thyme, salt, and pepper isn’t the perfect seasoning combination for this saviour of a meal. Cook until done. Dump onto a plate. Eat.
Has there ever been a meal so satisfying? So delicious at two in the morning when you’re finally back from the library and starving? If you add a piece of toast to it, you can even say you’ve had all your food groups! The breakfast scramble: a godsend, and the patron saint of tired students. How we love you.
Last week, I was really craving some cake. I don’t believe in occasions for eating cake, but I’ve been trying to eat healthier, so I jumped on the idea of celebrating the Justice League trailer and making dessert because my parents were having people over. I have no idea why, but I wanted something lemony, and I had a very specific idea in my head of the look and taste of what I wanted. It would be a light, fluffy layered cake with a lemon curd filling and an icing glaze. That’s…not what I made.
I mixed up my cake batter. Pretty standard stuff, but I added a bit of lemon zest and lemon juice to it. I don’t exactly know why – not enough baking powder? Old baking powder? – but when I baked it, it came out much denser than I was anticipating.
The cakes came out of the pans cleanly, and they held up very well, even after being cut, but consistency-wise, I was imagining something much lighter. It didn’t taste bad, but I’d have preferred something else. Next time I try it, I’ll add more baking powder.
Lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolks, butter, sugar, and a little bit of cream – this curd was delicious. Without it, the cake would have been completely unmemorable, but it was incredibly tasty – both sweet and tart, rich without being heavy. I didn’t quite let it cool long enough before using it, so it didn’t quite thicken, but I stuck it in the fridge afterwards, and it was fine.
I made too much of the curd, so instead of just using it as a filling between the layers, I covered the entire cake in it and skipped the glaze. It wasn’t what I intended to make, but I can’t complain about the results – using the lemon curd made something ridiculously indulgent and, if I do say so myself, fantastic.
I really can’t stand when someone complains about the “Americanization” of food, because so often, that’s used as the sole justification for why it’s not good. Inauthentic is not always synonymous with bad, and Americanization is being used as a blanket term for something as simple as catering food for regional tastes.
I’ve seen it a lot with regards to Italian food. While I personally may find some aspects of the traditional Italian more appealing than I do Italian American, I think it’s important to remember that food in America is very different from food anywhere else, because the restaurants have been built by immigrants. Oftentimes, the food can be classified as authentic – it’s just become something entirely different than what it was originally. Italian American food is now something that has Italian roots, but is distinctly American, and something good. Thick, rich, deeply flavourful tomato sauce that’s been cooked for a long time and smells amazing? That’s not traditional, but it’s delicious. Authenticity isn’t always better. It may not even exist at all – how could it, when today, everyone all over the world has easy access to ingredients and cooking methods that didn’t even exist a hundred years ago?
Some of my favourite things to cook are hearty, tomato based pasta sauces. I don’t like chunks of tomato – I really am not a fan of raw tomatoes at all – but I love the taste of them when they’re roasted or slow cooked. So a tomato sauce with garlic, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a tiny bit of cream? Sign me up.
Something I find strange though is that people tend to complain about the Americanization of European food more than anything else. Tex Mex is pretty universally acknowledged to be its own thing separate from traditional Mexican. A lot of Asian foods are never seen outside of whatever country they come from. In the US, there’s a narrow range of foods from non-European countries that’s considered acceptable and worth eating.
Indian food sold in American restaurants is heavy and rich, based on the dishes commonly served in the north of India. It’s not even close to representing the entire range of Indian cuisine, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m Indian. I like traditional Indian food. My mother’s family is Tamilian, and that type of food is something that you can find in Toronto and New York and a few other major cities, but very few places aside from that in North America. I also enjoy the standard fare served in just about every Indian restaurant in the country that no one ever complains about being inauthentic, despite it being so. Would it be nice if more authentic food was available? Sure. But not everything has to be authentic to be tasty.
This fixation on authenticity only in regards to certain cuisines ties into the idea that cuisines such as French and Italian are somehow intrinsically superior to foods from other parts of the world. I’m not a fan of French food. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with French food or that it’s not good, it’s just not to my personal tastes. I like Italian food, I do. But I don’t find Italian better than, say, Thai or Lebanese. I think it’s ludicrous to claim that Italian or French cuisine requires more skill or effort than dishes from other parts of the world, and in fact, it’s demonstrably false. There’s nothing special about authentic Italian that isn’t also true about authentic food of any culture. Food can and should evolve because of new tastes, to use new ingredients, or even from just experimentation and trying something different. It’s both pretentious and ridiculous to never stray from a set of recipes that have been declared authentic just because anything else would be inauthentic. Italian food purists don’t recognize that.
This double standard extends to the cost of food as well. We still view food from non-Western cultures as inherently inferior, as something that, while tasty, isn’t worth a lot of money or time. They’re considered poor countries, meaning that the food should be cheap. I’m thinking about things like small Vietnamese restaurants – no matter how much effort each dish takes, people get upset and call it overpriced if a meal is more than, like, ten dollars, even if it is a large amount of delicious food. These same people don’t bat an eye at paying the same amount for a meal at Panera, despite none of what’s offered there being remotely difficult to prepare at home.
Food is amazing. There’s so much to enjoy about it, no matter where what you’re eating comes from. But it becomes much, much more enjoyable when you let go of the idea of doing it “right”, and instead focus on what tastes good.