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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

What Should We Have For Dinner?

Katelyn Phelan

(Feb, 2011) When I was growing up my mom made a warm meal every night for me and my three brothers. She would grill steak, make casserole, toss salads, and serve us delicious meals every evening. As I got older she would sigh and ask, "Kate, what should we have for dinner tonight?" I could never understand what was so difficult. She would invariably pull something together and everyone would leave the table satisfied.

I vowed that I would never have problems coming up with dinner ideas. I envisioned that I would have a comprehensive list of everything that I could expertly, of course, make for dinner. When I couldnít think of something I would look at the list and viola!

Though I still think that a list of possible foods has great potential, I havenít really had much of a use for it so far. The first time I had to cook for myself consistently was two summers ago when I lived at the Mount and took classes. I lived in an apartment and since the cafeteria was not always open for dinner, I had to cook for myself. This was my first time food shopping and cooking on a regular basis. Well, I shopped anyway. Iím not sure you could call what I did "cooking." My main meals consisted of tomato soup, pasta, or eggs. Sometimes I put cheese on the eggs, but that was about the extent of my cooking.

One of my problems that summer was that I was busy. I didnít have time to figure out what I could competently make, let alone actually make it. Plus I was only on my own for about five weeks. I just decided to tough it out and go out to eat once or twice a week when I needed variety.

Another one of my cooking problems is that I donít love to eat. Of course I have my favorite foods that I crave and eat happily when I get them, but, day-to-day, eating is not a highlight for me. Many times I can get wrapped up in schoolwork or a project and forget about eating totally. Since food is not one of my loves, Iím not very compelled to learn how to cook.

But my next cooking experience I had to do better than tomato soup, pasta, and eggs. This time I was in an apartment in Florence, Italy, for three months. Here I had the added pressure of a much smaller grocery store, a different language, and the presence of already-cooked fabulous food all around me. These elements added to my utter culinary ignorance and made cooking even more challenging. But in Italy I had the chance to take some cooking classes and thought this would solve my problem. Though the cooking class was a lot of fun, it didnít really cater to my ineptitude. For example we made our own spaghetti sauce by boiling tomatoes, sliding them out of their skin, dicing them, and adding a multitude of spices. Here I was learning how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch while I could cook only a few different meals. This kind of cooking class was not exactly what I needed.

So the cooking class wasnít a huge help, except to show me how far I had to go. I did slightly better in Italy than during my Mount summer cooking experiment. I made pasta and eggs often, but I also made chicken parmesan and branched out to getting bread and sliced meat for sandwiches. Ok, my cooking efforts were pretty weak in Italy too, but with hundreds of fabulous restaurants all around me, why should I bother making my own meals?

But soon I had to face my cooking incompetence. This year, my senior year, I live in an apartment with one other girl. Neither of us bought a meal plan, and by doing so we committed to an entire year of feeding ourselves. We came to the Mount armed with a ton of cooking supplies. We have more cooking utensils than any normal kitchen should haveótwo can openers, several mixing spoons, spatulas, and pots. We have several tools that neither of us have any idea how to use. We also each brought a single recipe. We had all the kitchen supplies we could ever need, but we were only capable of making two dishes. Sarah knew how to make a tuna-noodle casserole and I could make chili.

We started off making one dish a week. Sarah began. She made tuna-noodle casserole one night for dinner, and then we lived off the leftovers for the rest of the week. The next week I made chili, and we would eat that for lunch and dinner. Though both meals are delicious, they can get tiresome after a few weeks. I made chicken parmesan and spaghetti one night, but other than that we stuck to eggs, soup, and microwavable pizza.

We were both excited to go home for Christmas break to eat some home-cooked meals, but after the first week or so we both oddly wished for our little Mount kitchen with absolutely no counter space. When Sarah went to shopping she planned to buy a dress with her gift certificate, but she ended up buying an egg poacher instead. Meanwhile I was having a hard time not grocery shopping for myself. Iíve grown to like choosing exactly what I want to eat and knowing what I have in my refrigerator. Plus at home my three brothers eat everything worthwhile that my mom buys within a day or two. I decided to use my time at home to expand my dinner options.

I watched as my mom made all my favorite meals. I took some notes and greatly expanded my dinner choices. I can make reubens, stir fry, and burritos. My first week of cooking has been a great success. Iíve had Greek salad and wings, chili, and pot roast. Iíve also grown to empathize with my mom. I now wake up wondering, "what should I have for dinner tonight?" Maybe it wonít be as easy as my younger self anticipated to plan dinners. It still seems as if choosing what to make for dinner is a secondary concern for me, though I am improving. Hopefully one day Iíll be able to sigh at my wide range of dinner options and ask my daughter, "what should we have for dinner?"

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan