How to eat with grace on transit

By Madeleine Brown

As a child and into my teenage years, my parents were adamant we sat down as a unit for dinner every night. (If I ever wanted to make a point, requesting to eat my dinner by myself in front of the television downstairs in the basement did the trick.)  However, over the course of my undergrad between extra-curriculars, meetings for groups projects and (somewhat of) a social life I became accustomed to eating on buses, trains and subways. While mealplanning and bulk cooking solved the issue of what I could eat for these on-the-go meals, how to eat them with grace and without upsetting my fellow travel companions was another issue in itself. I share with you my advice for navigating this potentially socially destructive situation. I spent four years developing it through plenty of first-hand research—which is certainly more effort than I put into any other assignment.

No soup for you

When it comes to eating on transit, your number one goal should be to not spill the contents of your meal on not just yourself, but also other passengers. It seems obvious, but let me tell you I’ve been tempted by one too many soup recipes only to regret the decision to prepare them come the speed bump-filled exit out of my university campus. This same logic applies to other liquidly stews, chilis and—unless you have a secure lid and straw—smoothies.

What’s that smell?

Ask any of my high school friends what my greatest legacy was during those four years, they’ll likely respond with my salmon sandwiches. Yes, I ate canned salmon sandwiches for almost the entirety of my high school career. (On occasion I switched things up with tuna sandwiches.) While I never minded putting them through that—hey, they’re my friends—I realize in the company of strangers you get away with far less. So, aside from eventually tiring of canned salmon, I also tired of disapproving glances on transit. (I hope those were about my food and not something else about me…) Save your smelliest dishes for meals at home where beloved roommates can escape the unpleasant fumes. That said even if your food doesn’t have an unpleasant scent, should it have one at all you may consider securing your Tupperware lid between mouthfuls.

Don’t forget the cutlery

The subtitle says is all, but in case you didn’t get the message: don’t forget the cutlery. I think back to the a delicious ratatouille with polenta from last spring that I had to eat with my bare hands on the subway. Yes, I know this is common practice in many cultures, but it’s not in student culture. (Actually that too could be argued, but for the purpose of this post let’s not get into it.) First off, it’s awkward, secondly, you’ll definitely garner the odd look or two and, finally, unless you carry an endless supply of wet wipes where there’s transit, there’s often not a sink.

Such a show-off

Finally, above all, while eating on transit, keep your meal to yourself. Whether your mode of transportation officially bans the practice (I’ve broken that rule many times) or not, typically transit is not the time or place to show-off your culinary capabilities. Everyone is tired, hating life and hungry. So while they weren’t as smart as you and packed food, save the bragging for another time. Hide your Tupperware container in your backpack or purse and quickly fork or spoon out bitefuls. You’ll keep everyone else happy and your reputation intact.

How to eat with grace on transit
A student’s typical dinner table

Follow the recipe

by Madeleine Brown

I learned to cook through recipes and now meal plan around the opportunity to test new ones. I am not a cook with a specialty or signature dish. In fact I strive to make two unfamiliar recipes every week, one for a week’s worth of lunches and another for dinners. However, aside from teaching me a variety of techniques and introducing me to a world of dishes, this approach has crippled me as a cook. Now, I don’t consider any dish I make without a recipe, well, a dish. I see it as a pile of stuff I didn’t weigh or measure out, haphazardly tossed together for no approximate cooking time and served in no particular fashion. And, ultimately, yes, that’s what a dish is, but somehow since it’s not codified in a recipe I can’t bare to designate it as such.

I am attempting to correct this outlook. I recently got over making salad dressing without the “accepted” ratio of oil to vinegar, instead eyeballing the amount I added of each as well as whatever in my cupboard took my fancy. I even felt a moment of pride earlier last fall upon tasting a carrot pasta in a creamy tahini sauce I made that was only inspired by a recipe. I am also quite comfortable with substitutions. I can’t remember the last time I actually bought buttermilk—milk with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or yogurt for me, please. Smoked paprika, you say, Mr. Nacho Recipe? Well, you’ll have to make due with just plain, old paprika. That said my recipe sensitivity only lets me go so far especially when it comes to baking.

I know a day will come when I no longer have the time or patience to work from a recipe. My pantry and fridge are also tiring. It’s like some sort of mind game finding recipes to use up every condiment and spice I’ve collected over the years. I just don’t know when this magical, freeing day will come and how. Recipes are sacred in my mind. We don’t have the time, opportunity or patience anymore to repeat a recipe enough with a friend or family member to learn it. The last thing I want to do next time I’m back home is spend it over a stove with my father—trust me. And, sure, there are many proponents of straying away from recipes, like PEI celebrity chef and friendly giant, Michael Smith. But, I’m sorry Mr. Smith you can’t make that claim and publish award-winning cookbooks. You won’t console me when I come crying to you over my failure of a peanut and jelly cookie because I thought, “Hey, why not replace honey with brown sugar. It’s basically the same, right?”

I have the same kind of respect for the jazz musician as I do the real, bona fide chef. They know their craft so well that they can break the rules and get away with it. For now I cling to the printed recipe. If anything it means should something go wrong, I can blame the recipe tester that wrote it. I promise I’ll grow-up and accept the responsibility someday. Maybe.

It's a love/hate relationship
It’s a love/hate relationship

Calorie counting

 by Caitlin Hart

Full disclaimer: I don’t believe in calorie counting. You won’t see me pulling out my calculator trying to decide if that muffin will put me over my daily calorie intake. I practice what I call the 80/20 rule. This means that 80 percent of what I eat is healthy and the other 20 percent is food that brings me joy, but may not be the healthiest.

Because what is the point of life if I can’t have my beloved Pringles?

Calorie counting
Sometimes all that’ll do is a potato chip

The way I see it you are going to go over the number of calories you should have in a day sometimes and that’s okay. I do notice that when I eat all unhealthy greasy food, that’s how I end up feeling: greasy and unhealthy. But, at the same time I would be miserable if I had to stick to a strict diet and being a student I have to make sure the food I eat is easily accessible. So, what’s a student to do?

The real deal authentic

by Claire Matlock

Lunchtime on university campuses features a range of international flavours. Both on campus and off, you can pay ten dollars or less for a Chinese, Korean, Greek, Indian or Italian meal. Features articles in our school newspaper and even entire websites are devoted to navigating these multicultural restaurants. But, can we really call bubble tea, butter chicken, and pad Thai “authentic” worldly cuisine? Not everyone has the opportunity to travel the world and dine on locally-prepared delicacies, so I recommend taking these transplanted dishes with a grain of salt.

Salt and pepper

by Madeleine Brown

When I moved into my university residence dorm room I was adamant I pack my red rubber boots, black ballet tutu and childhood teddy bear. Meanwhile, my friend, Kira was adamant she pack her pepper grinder. I think we can see who was ultimately more sensible at the time.

As first year went on I realised Kira had the spicy, savoury hit my meals needed. I eventually made the splurge and bought my own grinder in third year when I moved off-campus. And, even despite the bad rap it gets, I can’t ignore what just a pinch of salt can do a dish. In first year I had to rely on those little mass-produced packets and then bought a salt grinder in third year.

Maple on a plate: searching for a Canadian (food) identity

by Danielle Del Vicario

A few days ago, I asked some of my British friends to describe “Canadian cuisine”. After a fumbling silence, they all mumbled something about moose and maple syrup and my dearest roommate replying, “Maple leaves. Just maple leaves on a plate…”

Today, our societies (and our universities) seem to revolve around the idea of ethnic cuisine. As students, we eagerly await Indian night and spend more hours searching out the best sushi bar than we do studying. But, what do we eat the rest of the time? Is there such a thing as Canadian cuisine?

Nose to tail cooking for the apprehensive student (Part I)

by David Kitai

Nose to tail cooking isn’t always the easiest food trend to explain to people. It’s certainly not the prettiest. The idea, pioneered by the British chef Fergus Henderson in the late 1990s takes two forms. The American champion of offal (an animal’s internal organs), Chris Cosentino, says that if you’re willing to eat an animal, “You had damn sure be ready to eat all of it.” I prefer to see nose to tail as more positive movement that says our old approach to a cow, that it was made up of only two tenderloins, two striploins, two prime ribs, and a whole lot of hamburger, isn’t just wasteful, it ignores some of the tastiest bits our animal friends have to offer.

The hospitality industry and life skills

by Madeleine Brown

My parents never assigned me chores as a child. I never did the dishes or took out the garbage. My mom even made my bed for me every morning.

So given my mom and dad’s failure as parents it was up to my first stint in the hospitality industry—a summer internship in the hospitality department of a 300 year-old department store in London, England—to teach me how to polish cutlery, set a table and politely greet strangers. I was up for the challenge though even despite the store’s high standards and demanding customers. I attribute my enthusiasm to my chore-free childhood. That said I would go as far to say, even if you had real parents unlike myself, a job in hospitality—restaurants to be specific and well-run ones at that—in your teens or early twenties bestows you with many useful life skills. I begin to wonder if such experiences should be mandatory.

The perfect loaf

by Toula Nikas

For years bread has been a staple item in diets around the world. In Greece, bread is present at every meal. In Ethiopia, injera is not only delicious bread—it’s a utensil. In India, there’s poppadum and in France there’s baguette. For many traditions and cultures, a meal without bread is, well, incomplete.

As a university student, however, bread takes on an entirely different role. It shifts from water boy to first string quarterback the moment you set foot on campus for the very first time. From toast to sandwiches, from wraps to bagels, bread is the alpha and the omega, our sustenance, our lifeline.

Be your own barista

by Emily Davies

As a former barista, I have a strong correlation between cold weather and fancy drinks. Come fall and onwards into the winter I crave pumpkin; I want it in my soup, my bread and—without a doubt—my drinks. So here are some of my favourite homemade drinks to add to your winter wardrobe that will boost your energy and immune levels.  The Coconut Spice Whip Crème below can be used for the three beverage recipes that follow. (Although I won’t judge you if you choose to eat it by the spoonful from the bowl you whipped it up in.)