Funny how just a few words can send your thoughts tumbling back through the years, vividly recalling events better consigned to the dusty, shadowed corners of your blissfully foggy memory.
Only last week I was relaxing with a particularly pungent cigar and half-heartedly listening to a Davis radio station when the broadcasters assaulted my senses with a promotional message that jokingly suggested all freshmen entering the University of California system be required to complete a cooking course before graduating.
I knew the radio spot was nothing more than a carefully orchestrated bit of fun. I should have been able to shrug, puff and continue vegetating. Perhaps a little loafing, or even some serious laying about, would have been in order. It was, after all, my day off and I was entitled to remain in a benign state of suspended animation.
But the radio announcer had distinctly pronounced “cooking” and “university” in the same sentence.
So much for blissful semi-consciousness.
Suddenly I was catapulted back in time to a place called San Jose State and a world of small, dark kitchen-like places where food products were hopelessly transformed into globs of matter best suitable for paving state prison exercise yards.
If you were one of those young, hopelessly optimistic people who embarked upon your college career not knowing the difference between a cauliflower and a colander, I’m sure you understand exactly what I’m talking about.
It was a very, very dangerous time.
I recall one desperate college chum who, in a moment of insatiable hunger, tried to heat some tuna. In the can. Without opening it. The stove burner, of course, was set on high because my classmate was in a hurry.
The memory of that kitchen still haunts me…
Another student of my acquaintance decided to prepare spaghetti one dark, dismal afternoon during finals. He said fixing spaghetti was easy because he’d seen his mom prepare it. He knew he had to place the pasta in some kind of hot liquid. He opted for very hot vegetable oil.
Yes, there’s nothing like a big pot o’ deep-fried spaghetti. At least until it catches fire…
Then there was McBig Mac Stew.
This particular recipe was created by a rowdy group of counter-culture collegians who lived in a Victorian hovel a short distance from campus. Since none of them really knew how to cook, it was considerably easier – and much safer – to let McDonald’s do it for them. And since they never had any disposable income, it was thriftier to peruse the Dumpster behind the popular fast-food eatery.
Remember, this was the late ’60s, so they viewed liberating discarded hamburgers from a Dumpster as a kind of political statement.
Once they had the slightly-past-their-prime Big Macs back in their kitchen, they’d cut them into quarters, dump them into a pot with a cup of cheap white wine and a can of mushroom soup and let the mixture simmer for an hour or two.
This was usually a fairly safe meal unless my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, showed up and decided to slip some of his secret herbs and spices into the mixture.
I have to admit, whatever Sapper dumped into the stew seemed to improve the flavor, but it could play hell with your short-term memory…
Originally published September 23, 2001