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I learned a lot about cooking in college.

Wellness, of course, never really factored into the equation. Staying fed was really the main goal. If I stayed well fed, it was a wonderful thing.

I used to pride myself on being able to go one to two weeks on just 20 dollars worth of groceries. This was in the early 90s, of course, and I’m not sure that it could be done today. At least not without contracting scurvy. Which, incidentally, I was firmly convinced I had at one point. As none of my teeth fell out, it was probably a false alarm.

Many have told me I have odd tastes when it comes to food. This may have started when I was very young, and my father taught me the proper way to eat a toasted cheese sandwich- with Miracle Whip®©™ and strawberry jelly on top. This set me on my culinary course for life, and enabled my college creativity to blossom when developing recipes for my dining-on-a-dime lifestyle.

Back then, a loaf of white bread could be had for around $1.50, if memory serves. Once I had bread, I could scour the kitchen for the proper ingredients to go between two slices of bread to make a meal. At a group camping trip one year, I managed to bring home one of the GIANT bottles of ketchup- the kind that takes two hands to carry and two people to pour. I moved four times in three years, and that bottle of ketchup went with me each time, finally being thrown out when I graduated and moved back to my parent’s house for the summer before heading out into the world. I was sad to see it go, because when I had nothing else in the house, as long as I had that bottle and some bread, I could get by on ketchup sandwiches.

Ketchup Sandwiches
A delicious standby for when there’s nothing else to eat and you’re just too hungry to care.

You will need:

2 or 4 slices of bread, depending on how hungry you are and/or how much bread you have left and/or how much you have to ration your bread because you’ve spent the last of your student loan money on the latest Uncanny X-Men®©™ comic books.

Ketchup

Take a slice of bread, and spread a generous amount of ketchup on one side, topping with a second slice of bread. Do this for a second sandwich, if you wish. Wash down with cold tap water in the not-too-dirty 7-11®©™ Big Gulp®©™ cup that’s been sitting beside your bed on the floor for the past two weeks. Go hang out at the student center and bug your friends for french fries.

See? Resourceful! And ketchup counted as a vegetable in my diet as well, depending on your political beliefs at the time.

Sometimes, I got lucky, and had other ingredients around for sandwiches.

Tangwiches
Tangy and fruity, these will give you the energy you need to make it to class after staying up all night watching Doctor Who and trying to figure out if one of your friends likes you enough to … like you.

You will need:

2-4 slices of bread
A butter-like spread
Tang®©™
Optional: marshmallow fluff

Toast each slice of bread, and spread one side of each slice with either I-Can-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter-But-I’m-Too-Broke-To-Care or marshmallow fluff. Sprinkle with as much Tang®©™ as you can afford, but not so much that it falls out and gets wasted when you lift your sandwich. Cut the sandwich into four triangles, because it’s cute and otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed with orange. Mix up a nice glass of Tang®©™(I’m really getting tired of these) to chug along with it, and then try to make it to class before you have a sugar crash.

When bread becomes toast, it opens up a whole new world of meal possibilities. If you’re lucky enough to have chocolate milk, dunking your morning toast into it makes for a tasty start to the day (or end of the night, depending on how long you partied studied.) But for those times when, for some reason, you’ve run out of bread, there are ways to get by.

For instance, pancake mix can be a cheap staple to have around in your college cupboards. A batch of pancakes can be kept in the refrigerator and used as bread substitute for as long as they last, or until you finally find someone willing to give you a ride to the grocery store. Peanut butter & jelly & pancake sandwiches make a great lunch.

Eventually, I learned enough cooking skills to really expand my dinner horizons. Discovering the power of ramen noodles was a major step for me. It turns out that ramen noodles can be mixed with almost anything to make a meal! One of my favorites was to mix ramen noodles with a can of tuna. Another was to add scrambled eggs. I suppose I could have also added vegetables, but I never seemed to return from the grocery store with any in my bags. Considering ramen noodles sold for 15 cents a pack, and even frozen vegetables far exceeded that price in comparison, it’s really no wonder why. I tried to make up for it by buying inexpensive spaghetti sauce- which, of course, I poured over ramen noodles.

(A tip- although almost everything goes with ramen noodles, not everything goes with ramen noodles at the same time! This is essential to remember, otherwise you may end up trying to choke down tuna fish ramen noodle spaghetti. With scrambled eggs. Trust me- just like putting dish-washing-in-the-sink soap in the dishwasher, this is something you want to avoid.)

Once, I ended up with a bag of potatoes. I’m still not sure why I had them, because the only thing I knew how to make was baked potatoes, and I never took the time necessary to do that, probably because of my strenuous schedule of role-playing games. One bag of white potatoes sat under my kitchen sink for two semesters. At the end of the year, I opened the sink cupboard and was surprised to find an enormous, alien-tentacled monstrosity sprouting from the bag, filling every cranny it could cran. I took the nigh-sentient life form to one of my art class final reviews, and quietly sat it in the corner with a small card identifying it as “Pud the Potato God.”

I got an A. The professor told me this after class, when I finally woke from my tangwich-sugar-high crash-coma. I was also tired from cleaning up all the suds that had exploded from the dishwasher because I used the wrong soap (seriously- don’t ever do that.) Actually, now that I think about it, I woke up after class the next day (Do not take tangwiches lightly.)

As a more adult adult these days, I’m much more careful about what I eat. I try to buy more vegetables (and actually eat them) and citrus fruit whenever a tooth starts to wiggle. But for as horrible as some of my college cookery may sound to some people, I made it out alive.

And for everyone who turns up their nose in disgust at my toasted cheese sandwiches with the family’s traditional topping- in all seriousness, you don’t know what you’re missing.