Learning to Eat

Summers and Winters– I am stampeding through our kitchen, begging my friend Carolyn to jam the cornbread in the oven before  the oil for fried chicken threatens anyone who gets too close. After a summer yearning to trek to Southern Kentucky and revisit my mother’s first homestead, I had the foolhardy inspiration to return to my roots, specifically to a little old grandmother long since deceased who insisted on guests eating until they exploded (can you say Brandi Ferrebee?). The decision? Jumpstart my cooking chops by preparing boiled-to-death green beans, overly buttered squash casserole, fresh corn on the cob, fried chicken, the sweetest sweet tea, and a pan of cornbread. Even if I learned to cook, I never learned how to cook so much at once. Even as a double-degree Oberlin student used to multitasking while I multitask, I was floundering.

Ask some Obies about January in Oberlin, and they’ll mention that Winter Term is dreary enough to warrant getting away: a perfect time to study in Guadalajara with the PRESHCO program, get a Shansi In-Asia Grant and travel to study Nepalese folklore, or simply visit home and plow through a good book. Ask the hardened veterans of previous freezing Winter Terms on campus, and you’ll find it is one of the most inspired months: a time to do something new, a time to dive in without risk of becoming overwhelmed.

My second year I studied Viol de Gamba, continued writing a trio that has entertained me for three years, and began to cook with a group of OSCA veterans and CDS newbies: the Hark Foodship. Each night we prepared a delicious dinner requiring hours of prep, each more tasty than the last, and I watched in awe, slowly learning basics through osmosis until I was no longer afraid to chop up veggies and throw them in a pan to sauté. This tradition continued the next year as well, though my friend Daniel’s Oberlin Storydescribes it better than I ever could.

My housemate is a two-year Hark Foodship veteran, and they continue to save me regularly. During the fried chicken fiasco, they could not have walked in the door at a better time; moving me out of the way, they managed to fry pan after pan of chicken, narrowly avoiding splatters of burning hot oil. Carolyn, whose brother had helped found the first Foodship, managed to whip up everything necessary for the Cornbread and ensure it was picture perfect and on the table before I knew what happened. Somehow the Sweet Tea came out the right sweetness (enough to make my dentist cringe). The result? Amazing. Hands down the best food I’d ever cooked, and the impetus needed for me to begin cooking on my own. My friend Ma’ayan was even inspired to document the occasion, a testament to good friends as much as [a lack of] culinary expertise.

Oberlin Foodies Live OnOberlin has played a bigger role in inspiring me to eat food I prepared myself. While I completely missed out on being part of OSCA, the amazing duo of Oberlin alums Daniel Schloss and Allie Schwartz behind Economy Bites also helped kick me into gear. Their weekly show, a venture into cooking larger meals to last solo cooks most of the week, is perfect for people who need inspiration for simple, delicious food. In the true recent-graduate fashion, Schwartz uses fresh produce when the season–and wallet–allows, but also manages to help make canned ingredients worth using; I don’t follow each recipe to the letter, but it is enough to stop my hand from gravitating toward the Campbells and reach instead for the fresh tomatoes. This weekend I tackled a homemade tomato soup that began by roasting the tomatoes, introduced me to my first roux, and warmed up a sudden cold snap that only Oberlin could have thrown me. The cost–a measly $10.60; about the same as one Feve brunch– provided me enough soup to last my house many lunches, and went perfectly with the fresh baked bread from my second housemate.

Now, I find myself wanting to try out recipes and make them my own. I realize this is a long process that will envelop my entire life, but I don’t mind at all. I’m slowly finding food blogs that let me live vicariously until the weekend comes and I have time to cook again. I’m making plans with friends that involve more trips to our kitchens than our favorite restaurants. I’m eating more at student co-ops and letting those meals help me decide what to make for dinner the next night. Most importantly, though, I’m hoping to bring what I’ve learned home, because serving my dad with a home cooked meal from his son will be the sweetest surprise of them all.

Sean Hanson