Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

2013-02-26 17.18.39

Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Partying Until You Puke and Perceptions of College Life – The Women’s College Edition

this is part 2 of 5 in my series on why i chose a women’s college. to see the original description and disclaimer, please click here! thanks for your overwhelming support – and i continue to invite your comments, criticisms, celebrations, and engaged replies! 

It’s no secret that college life is supposed to consist of four main non-academic experiences: binge drinking, sorority/fraternity parties, athletic events, and wild sexual hookups. A notion pervasive in everything from films (thank you, Animal House), good-old-days stories recounted by adults reveling in their former glory days, down to the room decor available to you whilst shopping in Bed, Bath, and Beyond (in my first year, a floor mat with the slogan “PARTY TIME!” was particularly popular). I don’t dispute that such stories have basis in fact, but i can only speak to the “college life” i know.

And let’s get one thing out of the way, right away: just because MHC is a women’s college in New England does not mean the students here stay holed up in a booze-free, party-free environment for all eternity. The absence of fraternities and sororities, however, does exempt us from Greek Like shenanagins (which i personally am endlessly grateful for).

In fact, i would argue Mount Holyoke does have a thriving social life. But take note, dearest readers, that i use the term social life. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can binge drink to the point of excess, go to neighboring UMass or Amherst and party with the Sigma boys, and find plenty of male and/or female partners for sexual encounters. Dually, however, there is not immense pressure to do so, and to do so every weekend. It’s not a holier-than-thou campus, to be clear, but there is (as in everything) a wide spectrum of people partaking in alcoholic consumption; people who define themselves by not drinking, all the way through to the ladies at the porcelain throne come 2 AM Saturday morning.

But the social life of Mount Holyoke is so much more than this. At least once a week there’s a lecture, a dance, and some kind of religious life event going on. Endless student orgs are constantly putting on cultural shows, traditional meals, theatrical performances and plays, and open-mic-style events. My involvement with the radio station on campus lends itself both to my weekly talk show, but also to planning really fantastic radio-driven events (like live band performances).  The tour guides aren’t kidding in the slightest when they say there is an org on campus for everything. I adore this facet to my college life – it is something that, were i living at home, i would really miss out on.

While i will not disclose my personal partying opinions here, i will say i wanted to have a broad and diverse college experience both in terms of my academic study and my social endeavors. To this end, i’ve taken a number of truly wonderful road trips, attended some phenomenal lectures, and engaged in a number of campus demonstrations, performances, and events. The really marvelous aspect to life at Mount Holyoke is that the school, being nearly 200 years old, has some incredibly rich traditions, some dating back over a century. My favorite of these traditions is Mountain Day. It falls during the fall semester, when students awake to the ringing of bells, signaling classes to be cancelled. We then take the trek up Mount Holyoke itself, to be rewarded with ice cream served by our president at the peak. It is a magical day, and though i missed it this year due to being in London (i am still trying very hard to have no bitterness on this front, as selfish and terrible a person as this makes me!) it remains my favorite day of the year at school.

I’m not trying to say other schools have no such traditions, but i do think an enormous contributing factor to the richness of Mount Holyoke’s customs is both the smallness of the school, and the fact that we are all women. As i understand it, many reasons why individuals choose to be a part of Greek like on larger campuses is to function in a smaller, closely-knit community. We have no need for that here, as we as a body function in much the same way.

True, there are some options not afforded to us being a small school. Major athletic events and the rituals of painting your face,camping out for sports tickets, and your whole existence contingent upon a score you have no control over are not really part of our fabric here. For myself, this is no great loss; my Saturday afternoons are sometimes spent on the side of the rugby pitch, yelling my lungs off for my roommate and her kick-ass rucking abilities as the team smites yet another opponent. This is athletic ecstasy enough for me.

All of this to say that the stereotypical college endeavors are far broader than what is portrayed. To the young women considering MHC*, i highly encourage you to come (or to at least take a tour, if feasible!). I’m sure the experience is much more diverse at other universities as well, but i take great pride and delight in the sometimes quaint, sometimes outrageous life that Mount Holyoke offers.

And our football team? We’re still undefeated.

current jam: ‘symphony no. 2 in D’ beethoven

best thing in my life right now: vegas.

* i also highly encourage ALL collegiate-bound and first year college students to check out john green’s fantastic vlog on college advice, which covers far more eloquently than i insights into how to maximize your time at university!