Monthly Archives: February 2014

The College Girl’s Guide to Dorm Baking

That’s kind of a bold title. Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an expert about baking in a dorm. But I do know a few things. And since people ask me how I do it, I figured I would share it on the internet. Also, I’m not trying to be sexist by saying “college girl.” This is also for the “college guy.” Or “college gender non-identifying student.” “College student” just didn’t have the same ring as “college girl.”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re saying. “Just show me the baked goods!”

This apparently is the first documentation I have of my dorm baking efforts. Fall of sophomore year.

This apparently is the first documentation I have of my dorm baking efforts. Fall of sophomore year.

One more disclaimer: the lighting in our dorm kitchen is less than beautiful, and many of these photos come from before I discovered Instagram and the magic of filters.

This guide is not for you lucky college kids who live in apartment or suite-style situations where you have your own kitchens, with your own fridge, drawers and cabinets to fill up with your own ingredients and equipment. Go read a real food blog and do what they’re doing. I’m talking to everybody like me, who lives in an older dorm with an ill-equipped, often less than spotless, communal kitchen, and must make do with the ingredients offered by the convenience store.

Oh, this light. So harsh and cold. I promise these tasted really good.

Oh, this light. So harsh and cold. I promise these tasted really good.

I started baking regularly in my dorm kitchen when I was a sophomore. I had been inspired that summer by my discovery of Joy the Baker, and subsequently, of Foodgawker. Both became a daily habit, and while I couldn’t make anything nearly as spectacular as the stuff I would find on those sites, I decided that I would try and do what I could with what I had.

These are super easy , a huge crowd pleaser, and I totally forgot to make them this Christmas. Maybe for another holiday soon!

These are super easy , a huge crowd pleaser, and I totally forgot to make them this Christmas. Maybe for another holiday soon!

I worked in an academic office that year, and my coworker and I started bringing in baked goods most Mondays. She had an apartment and brought in things baked from scratch, with multiple ingredients. I, on the other hand, learned how to use brownie and cake mix to make all kinds of cookies. And it worked.

The classic Funfetti cookie. You can never go wrong with Funfetti.

The classic Funfetti cookie. You can never go wrong with Funfetti. (Also, paper towels can substitute for cooling racks.)

So how did I do it, you asked? Here’s how:

1) Bring your own stuff and store it in your own room. Things disappear in communal kitchens, intentionally or unintentionally. I learned really quickly that there were only about three things I could ever count on being in my kitchen: muffin pans, vegetable oil, and an assortment of greasy measuring cups. So I went to the dollar store and to Walmart (real talk) and bought myself my own (really really cheap) supplies. These include: mixing bowls and spoons; spatulas (both the scraping kind and the flipping kind); cookie sheets; a rectangular cake pan; and measuring cups and spoons. I also recommend obtaining a whisk; Tupperware; potholders or oven mitts; and dish soap. Check out what kinds of ingredients your convenience store sells. If you have a grocery store nearby, or at least a way to get there, awesome. For me, I know that if I want to get anything beyond what is required for chocolate chip cookies, or boxed cake and brownie mixes, I will need to go to a store or bring it from home with me.

I made these with my RA, spring semester of sophomore year. These are coconut lime cookies, and we made something so "fancy" because she had a car and could get the stuff.

I made these with my RA, spring semester of sophomore year. These are coconut lime cookies, and we made something so “fancy” because she had a car and could get the stuff.

2) For the love of God, clean up after yourself. Chances are, the housekeepers or custodians in your residence hall are not responsible for washing the dishes people leave behind in communal kitchens- and they shouldn’t be responsible for it. You are almost an adult. Be a good person and leave the kitchen at least the way it was when you arrived. Create some good kitchen karma.

These are M&M cookies made from a cake mix batter. Yes, the taste and texture are a little different. But they're still cookies and they were easy!

These are M&M cookies made from a cake mix batter. Yes, the taste and texture are a little different. But they’re still cookies and they were easy!

3) Get good recipes based on boxed mixes. There, I said it. In my own house, I rarely use boxed mixes. I’ve used real flour in the dorm only a handful of times. The cost, the time, and the clean-up are much reduced when you go with ready-mixed ingredients. Click the links for the master recipe I use for cake mix cookies, and the recipe for my beloved brownie chip cookie. Is there a difference in taste? Yeah. Do your friends notice or really care? Absolutely not.

These are loaded sugar cookie bars, made from refrigerated sugar cookie dough and Valentine's M&M's. Super easy, super sugary, and a big hit.

These are loaded sugar cookie bars, made from refrigerated sugar cookie dough and Valentine’s M&M’s. Super easy, super sugary, and a big hit.

4) Make adaptations and learn about ingredient substitutions. For instance, maybe a recipe calls for melted butter. But all you have is vegetable oil. No problem! Melted butter and vegetable oil substitute for each other in exactly the same quantities. (Softened butter and vegetable oil do NOT.) Applesauce can replace butter in some cases. Maybe you need vanilla and almond extract, but you don’t have almond extract? Just add more vanilla. Trust me, you won’t miss it. Are you trying to bake banana bread but can’t find a loaf pan? If you have a rectangular cake pan (usually 9 by 13) or a muffin pan, perfect. Bake banana muffins! Or banana CAKE. (You can call it cake and it’s really just the banana bread recipe. Don’t worry. I won’t tell.) You can bake both brownies AND cookies in a muffin pan, assuming you don’t have to have that perfect brownie square or round, flattened cookie shape. (Can you tell how much time I’ve spent baking everything in a muffin pan?)

These are chocolate crinkle cookies. Made from chocolate cake mix!

These are chocolate crinkle cookies. Made from chocolate cake mix!

And we now skip over an entire semester of baking when I went to Chile (and you thought that we’d get through a blog post without mentioning Chile. HA.), and enter the era of the iPhone/Instagrammed pictures.

These are from scratch Oreos. My old RA came to visit and she brought the ingredients. Super tasty. (But most college students will opt for the packaged kind.)

These are from scratch Oreos. My old RA came to visit and she brought the ingredients. Super tasty. (But most college students will opt for the packaged kind.)

These were cake mix snickerdoodle cookies. Not the most outstanding. You really do need cream of tartar to get that little extra something.

These were cake mix snickerdoodle cookies. Not the most outstanding. You really do need cream of tartar to get that little extra something.

5) Keep it simple. Keep it easy. It doesn’t take a very complicated recipe, or crazy flavor combinations, to impress people and brighten their day. College kids in particular appreciate the little extra effort you’re making by baking something fresh. Even if it isn’t 100% from scratch or organic or a Dorie Greenspan recipe.

During hall staff training, I made these gluten-free muffins. The ones without chocolate chips are also vegan. They were hearty and great.

During hall staff training, I made these gluten-free muffins. The ones without chocolate chips are also vegan. They were hearty and great.

These started out as a snickerdoodle cupcake and turned into churro muffins. I need to bake these again.

These started out as a snickerdoodle cupcake and turned into churro muffins. I need to bake these again.

Fresh baked goods have a way of making people feel at home. Although I’ve complained plenty about my dorm’s kitchen being…not the best, it’s a favorite space of mine because it is such a great gathering space. Mixing something up in that kitchen has been one of the very best ways for me to see residents, talk to them, and get to know them a little bit. That’s why I bake.

Remember that one time I made alfajores entirely from scratch? That was work. And 110% worth it.

Remember that one time I made alfajores entirely from scratch? That was work. And 110% worth it.

Totally from a box. All of it.

Totally from a box. All of it.

I've made this in the dorm every Christmas since freshman year. This year, I bagged it all up for hall staff. And promptly forgot it in the community fridge.

I’ve made this in the dorm every Christmas since freshman year. This year, I bagged it all up for hall staff. And promptly forgot it in the community fridge.

Also, it tastes pretty good.

It's true!

It’s true!

With love,

Gaby

P.S. If you would like any of the recipes shown or have any of your own suggestions, please leave a comment!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

January: en fin

Oh heyyyy. I’m sticking with the biweekly post commitment, friends. I didn’t have any brilliant ideas or things to write about this time around. I thought about writing about baking, and I realized that I haven’t baked anything since I came back to school. I thought about writing about Chile-sickness, but I’ve dealt with that basically every single time I post. So I’ll give you a break this time. Then I remembered that I actually made New Year’s resolutions, and since a month of the new year has already passed (crazy talk), I decided that this could be a good opportunity to recap how those resolutions/possibilities/intentions are going.

So. I said I’d try Meatless Mondays. I don’t think I’ve done it even one Monday yet. Granted, I don’t eat meat at every single meal. If there’s fish, I’ll get fish. Eh. I’ll give it another shot. I also thought that I’d try to eat fewer carbs on the days where I don’t have half-marathon training runs. But what you eat the day or two before a longer run, not just the day of, really matters, and that includes good carbs. Also, I have fallen in love with the panini maker in the dining hall and can make a perfect chicken caprese AND an egg and cheese sandwich. So there’s that.

Speaking of the half-marathon…we’re seven weeks out from race day and training is going pretty well. I hit six miles this week and actually felt really good. My legs were kind of confused as to what had just happened, but I ran at a pace I was very happy with, and I was not miserably sore the next day.

A new favorite from Gabriela Mistral.

A new favorite from Gabriela Mistral.

Another resolution I had was to be in bed around 1 AM and get up at 8:30 every weekday. I mostly get up around 8:30, but bedtime at 1 is a little challenging. But I’m working on it. The nights that I turn the lights out before 2 are much more numerous than they have been in recent years, so I consider that an improvement. One thing I’ve been doing more often- which I thought I’d do all last semester but basically never happened- is reading a little bit before I go to sleep. Right now I’m working through an anthology of Gabriela Mistral’s poetry and essays. Mistral is one of my favorite poets. She wrote beautifully in Spanish on a wide variety of topics: Chile, faith, motherhood, womanhood, and education, among others. Her poetry often reads like a prayer, and that’s a nice thing to have right before bed.

I’ve also been journaling almost every single night. Taking five to ten minutes just to write down my thoughts on the day is so very helpful. It’s calming, and it lets me work out whatever happened that day and let go before the next day arrives. At the end of every entry I write down five things I’m thankful for, and five things I’d like to pray for. I strongly recommend doing this if you think you’re a busy person without time for much reflection- even if you don’t want to write a full journal entry, putting down five moments of gratitude and five moments of prayer can do wonders to deepen your faith, and the gratitude in particular can easily brighten your perspective on a rough day.

Candles at the feet of St. Bernadette at the Grotto.

Candles at the feet of St. Bernadette at our Grotto.

One resolution that I really need to work on is getting over to the Grotto, a very special place of prayer on campus. My goal is to get there five times per week- and I think I’ve been there less than ten times total over the whole semester thus far. It’s been very, very cold. A poor excuse, I know, but that’s really it. You can’t spend any time there because it’s so cold it’s almost unsafe to be outside. I always stop by the Grotto after an outdoor run, but it’s been beyond my cold tolerance to run outside. Hopefully the weather will finally warm up, and I’ll get down there more often. Or, I will refocus this resolution and just go downstairs to our dorm’s chapel. There really aren’t any good excuses for this one.

My shining resolution of the month, besides half-marathon training, was writing and sending at least one card or note to someone every week. I sent several during my first week back at school, and I’ve been good at coming up with new people to send them to each week. It helps that my youngest brother got me these adorable blank greeting cards that have a pretty dessert on the front and the recipe on the back. Even in the age of Facebook and Instagram, and the slow sad death of the post office, stationery and cards are still excellent gift ideas!

I think that’s all for now! Valentine’s Day is approaching. There will be sweet things to eat. And you will see pictures.

How are your resolutions going? Have you given up or are you still going strong? Do you have any suggestions as to how you keep pushing along month after month of the year?

Happy February, friends! With love,

Gaby

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized