College students who eat what the school provides in dining halls of often are bored but have the assurance of meals (pre-paid) on a regular basis, as this survey of New England and Mid-Atlantic schools showed last week. Those who leave the campus dining halls have no such security. Their food choices appear to be dictated by neccesity rather than taste as they find themselves caught up in a cycle of feast and famine. All too often, money budgeted to last for a semester of gracious dining vanishes, leaving behind empty bank accounts and empty larders.
Since their incomes tend to be limited and undependable, students are hit particularly hard by rising food prices. A few do manage to budget grocery money to last for the semester. They rarely eat out, seldom by hamburger meat and chicken and never but steak or wine. They eat regularly, but not joyously.
Others, the underfed majority, splurge when the mood strikes them and starve for the rest of the month.
Students who cooke their own food learned to live on macaroni and cheese dinners. They learn it's cheaper to buy beer by the quart than by the six-pack. They learn that to drink nothing on Saturday night, so they switch to Pabst. They learn to eat what is placed before them with a stoic grace.
Many students do their grocery shopping during the weekend or at the beginning of the week. They may enjoy an excellent dinner Monday night, but the meals get grimmer as the grocery supply gets lower. By the end of the week, Dinner can become an ordeal.
Gary Langer, a student at the University of New Hampshire, described his Friday night dinner, which he prepares during the week.
"Every night I throw leftovers from dinner into a big bowl in the refrigerator. By friday night the bowl is full of spaghetti, cream of mushroom soup, bean, and all sort of things. I empty it into a sauce pan along with some butter and eggs. It's not bad if you don't look at it and down it quickly with a beer."
Students who cook for themselves learn to eat almost everything.
Brad Huckins, another New Englander, dead broke and alone in his apartment during Christmas vacation, lived for 10 days on a diet of canned peaches and Kool-Aid.
A Catholic University student, who wished to remain anonymous because his mother reads this food section, once spent two weeks' grocery money on one beery weekend and awoke on Monday morning with no money and no food in his apartment except for two boxes of instant Cream of Wheat, left there by a formar occupant. He ate the cereal three times a day for eight times. Now even the sight of the smiling chef on a Cream of Wheat box depresses him.
Some students, especially men, forgo cooking almost entirely. They prefer to eat in cheap restaurants. Their diets revolve around cheeseburgers, with occasional side trips for pizzas and subs. College town restaurants sell more of this type of food than anything else.
But, as with the dining hall eaters, not all off-campus student are junk food admirers. Since students are relatively poor and vegetables and beans are relatively cheap, they have become popular even among non-vegetarians. They serve eggplant Parmesan, vegetable casseroles and squash dishes as often as meat dishes.
"I eat beans all the time, because one bag costs only 75 cents, and the provides dinner for three days," Said Keith Cheely, a junior at the University of Maryland.Cheely said he generally keeps a pot of beans in his refrigerator all the time, and is able to prepare dinner in minutes simply by heating the beans. What is left over goes back in the refrigerator to await the next day's dinner.
Howard Block, owner of the Common Market, a successfull organic food store that caters to UNH students, thinks that students today are more willing to experiment with vegetarian or "exotic" diets than others might be.
Block's small store is crowded with jars of dired beans, wheels of cheese, sacks of coffee beans and shelves of exotic-sounding spices, all of which sells briskly. The store also sells vegetarian sandwiches, meatless lasagna, quiche, Knishes (driven up weekley from new york) and other vegeterian fare to students tried of burgers and fries. The sales at the organic lunch counter do not make a dent in the profits of the Burger King across the street, but, said Block, the counter does make money.
Block's customers can be divided neatly into two groups exemplifying students in general. One group is comprised of dedicated health food fans, who are seriously interested in natural foods and try to stick to well-balanced, largely meatless diets. The other are more lackadaisical. They eat good food when they can afford the time and money neccessary for it. When they can't, they eat whatever is available, cheap, and easy to prepare. And when they have a little extra money, and a yen for something different, they buy a sandwich or some cheese from Block.
When students do take the time and money to eat well, it is usually because they are not eating alone. As one university food service director observed, "The student is social animal."
For many commuting students, too busy to go home for lunch and too broke to buy it in a restaurant, dinner is the only real meal of the day. Two or three students living in an apartment, of four or five in a house, will usually try to eat together at night. If the establishment boasts at least one good cook (and most do) memorable dinners can result. If friends are invited, the results often are amazingly good.
Holidays are the excuse for a serious feast. At Thanksgiving a year ago, 24 UNH students, all living in the same apartment building, spent two days and about $80 on a group dinner, and divided cooking and cleaning chores.
Dinner included a 26-pound turkey (with sausage and mushroom stuffing) four bowls of mashed potatoes, three bowls of vegetable casserole, sweet potatoes, roasted pecans, olives, salad, peas with mushrooms and butter, four kinds of pies (apple, pecan, pumpkin and sweet potato), and five gallons of wine (three white, two red).
Here, are some recipes in that spirit. It is not hard to tell these students' recipes because they call for very cheap ingredients and can be simply expanded or shrunk to cope with any number of friends.
RED BEANS AND RICE
(6 servings) 1 pound dried kidney beans 8 cups water 1 ham bone or 1/2 pound salted port 1 large onion, quartered 3 green peppers, quartered 1 clove garlic 1 tablespoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Three green peppers may seem like a lot but Marguerite Kelly, who grew up on Creole cooking, says they are the secret, and should be used liberally.
Soak the beans overnight, or boil for two minutes, turn off heat and soak one hour. Add the other ingredients. Simmer two hours, covered. Stir occasionally, keeping the beans covered with water at all times. Serve over rice.
MEG'S PORK CHOPS IN BEER
(4 servings) 4 thick port chops 1 bottle of beer 2 apples 2 onions Salt and pepper Rosemary
Quarter onions and apples. Put them in a heavy saucepan with the pork chops, season to taste, and add beer to cover. Simmer over medium heat until done.
Perfect French Fries
(Serves any number)
These french fries are to other fries as Chateneauf du Page is to Ripple, and since a 10-pound sack of Maine potatoes costs only $1, this is a good recipe for jazzing up an uninspiring dinner cheaply.
Peel potatoes. Fiugre at least two per person, more if you are dealing with heavy eaters. Cut potatoes into strips for medium-size french fries. If you like steak fries, cut the potatoes accordingly. If you like matchstick fries, that is up to you also.
Wash the potatoes in very cold water and dry them on paper towels. If you fail to dry them completely, they will make limp fries.
Fill your largest sauce pan with enough oil, or shortening, or a combination thereof, so that it comes half way up the sides of the pan. Turn heat on high. After five munutes or so, drop a bread cube into the oil.If it browns in about 60 seconds, the oil is about 365 degress, and ready for the potatoes. If the oil starts to smoke, it is too hot.
When the oil temperature is right, put in as many fries as will fit comfortably, and cook them for about a minute and a half. They should be softenend and starting to puff up a little bit when you take them out but not browned. Let the oil get back up to 365 degrees again, and put in more potatoes and repeat the process. Do this until all the potatoes have had their turn. Drain them on paper towels.
Put everything aside until 10 minutes before dinner. The heat the oil to 365 again, drop some fries in, and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until they are light brown and crisp. Repeat this with the rest of the potatoes, making sure to allow the oil to get hot again between each batch. As each batch is finished, drain the fries and put them in a paper towel-line basket. Salt to tast. Serve as soon as the last french fry is cooked. Good served with Dijon-style mustard or malt vinegar.