Every six weeks or so, Liberal Art, our newest advice columnist, will be answering questions from students, alumni, and maybe a few Michigan groupies. He'll be dispensing sage advice and cocktail party wisdom as only a long-winded young man of letters can.
Dear Liberal Art,
I’m a freshman who has come to realize he desperately misses mom’s cooking. How can I eat on a budget without pigging out at Mr. Spot’s or Big Ten Burrito every day? Can I cook for myself in a tiny place?
Starving in South Quad
I hear you, Starving.
Honestly, since reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire when I was 15, I’ve only been eating sustainably grown food, but I’ve walked past Mr. Spot’s and BTB a lot so I totally feel you. The gustatory woes of the dormitory -- or studio-bound -- undergraduate are nothing new to me: We’ve all forged a nasty grilled cheese sandwich on a contraband hot plate or a dorm radiator.
But surely you’re aware of the ramen noodle. How could you not be? Of course, having contemplated a fourth major in Asian Languages & Cultures, what I know about ramen is a bit different than what you know: Of Chinese origin then introduced to Japan, ramen was historically a fresh, handmade noodle dish. In 1958, Japanese entrepreneur Momofuku Ando launched the world’s first instant noodle,Chikin Ramen. According to his 2007 obituary in The Times, his company Nissin also made the first cupped noodle thirteen years later, using the same cup for packaging and eating. The cup design still hasn’t changed.
Sadly, the flavor hasn’t changed much either. Fail.
That said, they’re obviously inexpensive, Starving in South Quad, so you should get some. Ramen noodles, I mean.
Trapped in a dorm room with rules against using flame – unless you’re lucky enough to have an RA who forgoes Orgo to blaze at Hash Bash – you’ll need a microwave. Or you’ll need a magnetron to build your own. Either way, find yourself an inexpensive chicken breast and nuke it. No, microwaves do not remove nutrients from food, but yes, your chicken will have the texture of your rubber iPhone case.
Prepare a simple broth of salted water or maybe use some illicit beer that may be hiding behind your textbooks, and heat that too in the microwave until boiling. Add your pre-packaged noodles and pieces of the chicken to the broth, then add other ingredients like mushrooms or green onion.
While the only “king” this meal is fit for is a guy who’s the Mayor of his local 7-11 on FourSquare, it’s wicked cheap and better than buying artificially flavored chicken noodles in a bag.
If you’re anything like me, Starving, once you’ve traded up from South Quad for an apartment or a freshly painted house of questionable structural integrity, life will present you with a new set of problems: overgrown jock roommates who abscond with your hard-earned frozen chicken, a lack of pots and pans, and the pain in the ass I call “cleaning the kitchen.”
Enter: The George Foreman Grill.
Two metal plates sitting atop resistive heating elements – as you know from your Physics class and as I know from middle school, these are simply tightly coiled wires that emit heat when electricity flows through them – are pressed together in a hinged plastic casing, creating a dual-sided electric griddle. The possibilities are nearly endless: meats, fish, mushrooms, eggs, grilled cheese. I even once grilled a slice of pineapple. Like Bobby Flay. I should totally be on Iron Chef.
OK, Starving in South Quad, go forth and eat.
Send your questions for Liberal Art to LSA-Wire@umich.edu.