Columns, Opinions

Calvelli ’19: A recipe for success in college

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, December 7, 2018

First, brown one diced onion in butter in a large pot. Next, add about two pounds of chopped carrots, along with a tablespoon or two of minced ginger and a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon or lemongrass. Saute until the onions are soft and the carrots are starting to pick up a hint of sweetness. Add just enough water or light vegetable stock to cover (and no more!), throw in a hearty palmful of salt and black pepper, then bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer until the carrots are fully cooked. Puree the soup (immersion blender or regular blender — whatever crumbles your cookie), stir in about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar or lemon juice and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with fresh herb salsa, and voila — you have yourself a smooth carrot-ginger soup.

Simple to prepare, pretty healthy, loaded with micronutrients and totally doable for a college student on a busy schedule and a tight budget. This right here is your recipe for success.

I hope you didn’t think this article was going to be a “recipe” in the sense of steps you can take to succeed in college. This is literally a recipe for carrot soup. Fortunately, though, this soup recipe yields benefits beyond flavor and nourishment; it illustrates how cooking — or, more broadly, doing what you love outside the classroom — is integral to getting the most out of your higher education experience.

College, despite all the freedom it’s said to provide, can be an all-consuming endeavor. With no formal separation between work and life (we live where we work and vice versa!), it’s easy to feel like the endless pages of reading and perpetual problem sets can (or should) fill every waking hour. To me, when schoolwork — or anything else, for that matter — becomes so ubiquitous, my productivity suffers, and, more importantly, the work becomes less enjoyable. Tasks that hang over your head tend not to fill you with enthusiasm.

That’s why I think, banal as it may sound, that it’s crucial to continually engage in a hobby that takes you away from schoolwork. Some people might see this idea of me-time as a way to mitigate the stresses of college and take breaks to enjoy ourselves. However, I see it differently. To me, a major goal of the outside activity isn’t to distract from school, but rather to infuse it with more purpose and enjoyment. Work and play here are complementary. I’ve found that when I can derive meaning from multiple facets of my life, I feel less distraught when one of those facets temporarily seems like a burden. Boring day of seminar? At least I had a good workout. Undercooked pie crust? At least I got to learn about bird mating in class. Having those outlets helps me remember that schoolwork doesn’t need to consume my life; I can dislike a problem set without hating the entire academy, and the worth of my time here is greater than my grade on an essay.

Finding activities that give you those reminders is unfortunately easier said than done. That’s why, to get back to the point of this article (soup), I’m here to suggest that cooking is the best one. Of course, anything that gives you meaning and helps keep work in its rightfully limited space is great, but I think cooking has the most universal potential.

For one, cooking (or, at least, eating) is a necessary task. If you can imbue fun into your everyday tasks, you’ll be well positioned for a healthy daily perspective on life. It’s empowering to take something — meal prep — that can seem like a chore, and use it instead to build skills that are both useful and sources of pride. Learning to cook while you’re in college helps in life beyond your undergraduate years, too. What better time, with our unstructured schedules, to practice this skill that will make you a more attractive partner, a better dinner-party host or a praiseworthy parent?

Cooking also fosters traits helpful in college and in life. The process of making meals from scratch requires thoughtfulness and creativity. It demands that you take the time to consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. It also shows how rewarding it is to refine your work until it’s exactly the way you want. Failing in the kitchen is a low-stress way to see how mistakes are opportunities for growth. (Burned the crust on your bread? Sounds like French toast, not failure!) And for all the humanities people out there, the kitchen can be a simple introduction to STEM, teaching the practical value of understanding physics and chemistry by applying it to the glorious act of eating.

Last but not least, cooking is an excellent way to forge community. From time immemorial, humans have come together over food, whether around a fire, in a mead hall or at a bistro. In college, it’s easy to rush for a quick coffee to catch up or to replace social interactions with doing work together. Cooking and sitting down for a meal with friends new and old inspires you to slow down, to focus on your food and your friendship; sharing the experience of eating is a way of sharing the experience of life. College is the last time we’ll be surrounded by this many potential friends, so I see any opportunity to bring people together as one worth taking — especially when it can involve a Balkan cucumber salad or maple-walnut pie.

So, if you feel like your work has become your life and you need a new outlet, consider putting down your pencil, picking up a chef’s knife and getting to work chopping carrots. Hopefully, this carrot-ginger soup will inspire you, as it did me, to see how much cooking adds to the college experience. But even if it doesn’t, and you still see cooking as a bore, making the soup will still have been worth it. Why? Because now you have soup you can eat whenever you want. And there’s not much better than that.

Aidan Calvelli ’19 is head chef at Maizie’s, where you can find this carrot-ginger soup and more vegetarian fare. To make a reservation or to leave a review of the recipe, please email aidan_calvelli@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds (or soup) to opinions@browndailyherald.com.