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Category: parenting

To Hell with that Home-cooked Meal...

I’ve been trumped by the hair net brigade. My ace in the hole as a mother has lost its curb appeal, if you will, thanks to food services at my son’s college.

When your kid leaves for college, a mom has little pull remaining. Not much to draw that child back home again. When I was a kid, one of the few things I looked forward to was a good home-cooked meal upon my return to the home front.

My freshman year dining hall experience ran the gamut from the infamous (and much-loathed) chili-dogs to a fine-dining item known as “shrimplets”: a glob of batter with dessicated shrimp flakes mixed in, molded into the vague shape of an actual piece of shrimp and deep-fried to golden goodness. I knew it was time to get home to a good meal when shrimplets on the menu began to sound tasty.

We also had what was at the time the very cutting-edge salad bar. But this was in the early 80’s, so the salad bar was doused with sulfites to preserve it’s “freshness”, and thus left a bitter taste and had an undesirable numbing after-effect that left me generally eating only the chow mein noodles on top and none of the wholesome veggies beneath. 

My son is attending a school that touts the nation’s top-ranked dining hall experience. So great is the food that it is repeated as a mantra by most students, faculty and administration. Harvard might boast about the best education, but this place, dammit, they’ve got you by the balls with fabulous food.

When we attended orientation, I was dragged kicking and screaming (almost literally: I detest cafeteria food and had been looking forward to finding a nice restaurant in town, enjoying a leisurely glass of wine and some actual food) into the dining hall. My husband insisted: “We have to get the entire dining experience.” Why, I have no clue. But I relented so as to not have a hissy fit in front of my son and his potential peers.

When we arrived in the dining hall, I practically heard a choir of, well, not exactly angels, but something that would indicate this place wasn’t serving shrimplets. A quick glance around revealed dining stations everywhere: Asian, Mexican, vegetarian, breakfast for dinner, a dessert bar (our dessert was one item, rarely something one would choose to eat if given the chance to eat either that or gnaw on one’s own flesh). Hell, they even had a damned churrascaria. Who goes to the trouble to have a churrascaria for a bunch of college students who would gladly eat shrimplets if given no other options?

Now my husband has never met an all-you-can-eat venue that hasn’t thrilled him to the core of his being. He rises to the challenge and slathers his plate as high as it’ll hold it. And goes back for more. And more. And more. He was a very happy camper at the dining hall that night, particularly as he gloated at me, the doubting Thomas, who wanted nothing more than to hate the food and want to toss it at him. Take that, dammit, and gimme my glass of wine and my goat cheese appetizer!

Now when my oldest brother went away to college, I, the loving, baking-obsessed kid sister that I was, whipped up a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Back then shipping things wasn’t as simple as it is today. We didn’t keep packing materials handy, things took ages to get to their destination. Undeterred, I rifled through the house and found soft packaging for  those cookies: I securely buffered the batch with cotton balls, sent it on its merry way. Where it no doubt sat on a variety of sweltering trucks in the early days of September en route from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. By the time my brother got my well-intended gift the cotton had glued to the stale cookies and there was to be no salvaging of the things.

I’ve entertained the idea of sending my son cookies. This time I could even overnight them so they wouldn’t be stale. And I’d avoid the cotton balls in favor of maybe bubble wrap. The only problem is my cookies will be no draw to the cheesecake, creme brulee, mousse au chocolat, and the myriad other desserts at his daily disposal. 

By extension, those meals he might yearn for prepared by my loving hands will pale in comparison to the lobster, tenderloin, shrimp creole and lord knows what else they’re offering up at that place.

I want to lodge a complaint! They’re making school so desirable that my son will never want to come home. I guess the upside is it’s making my husband want to re-enroll in college, just for the meals alone. Maybe I can talk him into that, and I’ll be off the hook for cooking dinner for a couple of years: not such a bad downside to being usurped in my mommy role, eh?