A few days ago I turned 24. The celebrations revolved, not the least bit surprisingly, around food. Butterscotch monkey bread, bourbon chicken and waffles and chocolate cherry cake is fare I should probably relish now, in my first quarter century of life, right?
Wrong. I will do oblique crunches on Jillian Michaels’ command until I’m an octogenarian if that’s what it takes to justify the occasional double cheeseburger and regular batches of full gluten, non-Paleo, real (not nut) butter, chocolate chip cookies.
Because I’m another year older, a recipe or two wiser and a little nearer to understanding Who I Am and What I’m All About, here are a few food lessons, realizations and observations I’ve picked up along the way. I’ll put them here as to not forget them myself and because nothing on the Internet disappears.
- When in doubt, give the gift of food. If you buy your long distance friend a circle scarf for her birthday, you’ll probably pick the wrong color and not realize she’s allergic to the synthetic material it’s inevitably made from. Bake her some brownies she’s too busy to make herself and ship them off. That’s love.
- It’s tempting to get your inner artist on when faced with build-your-own-burger options. Yellow American cheese is the only kind that will live up to your melting expectations.
- Figure out how to make a salad you want to eat. Lettuce is the Laura Linney of the produce aisle. #Boring. We all have a salad soulmate, whether it’s Texas Toast croutons, goat cheese medallions or homemade dressing.
- You’re absolutely never too old for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. (Can’t guarantee the same for your lactose tolerance.)
- That said, you should give “real” mac and cheese a chance (at home or some fancy gastropub) by your twenties.
- The freshman 15 is a real thing. Because who honestly thinks 18 year olds can exhibit self control when the soda fountain is ADJACENT to the soft serve machine?
- College is also a time for experimentation. Because sometimes you realize that black bean burgers are a worthwhile affair.
- Be a good dinner/lunch/house guest and always bring something sweet. Or alcoholic. Or both.
- Learn how to brew a pot of coffee in a real coffee maker (not a Keurig.) Even if you don’t drink it, there will be a time when you’re entertaining someone who does. And you do not want to end a relationship over a weak cup of coffee.
- Eat a piece of fruit everyday. If you’re immature in every sense of the word, this alone gives you some adult credibility.
- Skipping breakfast is basically a sin. Sometimes your mom threatens to call your kindergarten teacher to tell her that you passed on cereal and that’s why you can’t focus on the Shel Silverstein story. But then you learn the importance of jumpstarting your metabolism and the beauty of Crispix and you grow into a 24 year-old that averages two breakfasts a day.
- Invest in a cereal container. No one likes chewy Honey Bunches of Oats.
- Grocery lists are necessary. They’re not perfect and you’ll still forget to put down pickle relish, but you’ll remember everything you need to make fajitas which is more important.
- Your taste buds are independent of your parents’. Just because your mom or dad is anti-Swiss cheese or enforces a strict no-brussels sprouts policy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go rogue and try them. Food FOMO is a punishable offense.
- When cooking for a crowd, stick to what you know. It’s stressful enough to think about how you’re going to fit four people around your tiny dining room table. Don’t complicate matters with new French recipes or five pan ordeals. Worry more about the wine.
- There’s no shame in shortcuts. I love eating pie and making pie and fantasizing about pie, but I’m not mentally ready to make my own pie crust. So I buy the frozen, roll-out crusts and they’re still delicious.
- Poblano peppers can burn your skin on contact. Soak your digits in water once you feel the slightest burning sensation. Contrary to the online commenting community’s advice, vegetable oil won’t save your fiery hands.
- Tip the delivery guy. Tip servers in general. It’s a decent human thing that does matter.
- Always have a can of garbanzo beans around. Good for salads, guiltless snacking and homemade hummus.
- Invest in a fully functional vegetable peeler. You’ll never known despair unless you’ve attempted peeling carrots with a two-dollar peeler.
- Leftover pizza reheated in a toaster oven > pizza reheated in the microwave > cold leftover pizza.
- If your apartment smells like a diaper and/or canned fish, sauté some garlic. Why Yankee Candle hasn’t tapped into this market yet, I’ll never know.
- Always have the basic ingredients on hand to make some semblance of a baked good (flour, granulated & brown sugar, eggs, baking soda and baking powder.) There are plenty of non-pastries you can still use them for, and you’ll be happy to have them for that inevitable Wednesday that can’t be fixed by anything but warm dough.
- If you can freely feast on onions or black beans or asparagus around another person, with zero anxiety and a clear conscience about the subsequent repercussions, you’ve found true love.