WND – College Nostalgia

June 4, 2009

cucumber debris

It was my 10 year college Reunion this past weekend. I didn’t end up going for a variety of reasons that aren’t even remotely interesting, but it has made me terribly nostalgic for college. All things considered the food at Bryn Mawr was really pretty good. Oddly enough exactly the same food a mile down the road at Haverford was terrible. This can clearly be attributed to the distressing presence of testosterone on their campus, or possibly it was because they had one dining hall to feed 1200 students and we had three and a half.

The problem is that when you have 1200 women who’ve spent four years being taught to think critically about everything – Foucault, Bede, Virgil, Nietzsche – it starts to spill over into other parts of life. You’ll be innocently watching something on TV – Dawson’s Creek perhaps, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and all of a sudden you find yourself tilting your head sideways, narrowing your eyes slightly, and commenting on the post colonialist imagery of Ethan Allen commercials, or the negative gender expectations in Friendly’s ads, and of course the food in the dining halls.

The favored method of conveying criticism, and compliments, to the dining hall staff was via napkin notes.

 napkin notes

The people who ran dining services at Bryn Mawr were (and presumably still are) among some of the more awesome members of humanity. Not only was Shauna’s Sweet Potato Pie a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but Cam, who was Head of Dining Services when I was there, was the kind of awesome who’d dress up in drag and host the annual Pimp Strut*. And, on a more daily basis, he was the kind of awesome who didn’t take the hypercritical napkin notes personally and always responded with a sense of humor.

Napkin notes came in a variety of flavors. There were the desirable but completely impractical suggestions – save the environment by eliminating paper napkins from the Dining Halls. There were the notes complaining about the lack of something on the menu – usually something I was surprised anyone would voluntarily consume, like vegan soy cheese. These notes were usually couched in terms of, “well maybe the dining hall had just run out by the time I got there, but could we please stock more because there are hungry vegans out there.” Bryn Mawr being the bastion of liberal elitism that it is, there was actually a frighteningly high chance that this was true and not just passive aggressive hyperbole. Then there were the napkins notes that would wax rhapsodic about the glory of the mashed potatoes/grilled cheese sandwich/corn chowder that had been served that day (actually, I don’t think anyone ever waxed rhapsodic about the corn chowder because it was vegan and the only way it was ever palatable was if you added about a cup of cheese to it).

Whenever I stop in Whole Foods I take a minute to read their comments board because it reminds me of Bryn Mawr. It’s got the same range of “helpful” comments and requests for obscure nuts and grains, and complaints about the presence of allergens in the air. What it lacks, however, is the affection and sense of humor that characterized napkin notes at Bryn Mawr. Even the notes that were about finding a ladybug in your salad tended to run along the lines of, “Ten little, nine little, eight little ladybugs; Seven little, six little, five little ladybugs, Four little, three little, two little ladybugs; One little ladybug ON MY LETTUCE**” rather than an accusatory, “There was a bug in my salad, I’m planning on calling the Health Board.” Requests for old favorites to be restored were usually phrased as passionate love letters to the glories of cherry goo, rather than as querulous demands about, “why have you replaced the Israeli couscous salad with a quinoa salad, don’t you know that {insert dubious health reason of choice here}?”

I know that Whole Foods is a corporation whereas Bryn Mawr is a community, and that people will react and respond to those two things in very different ways. I also know that I’m nostalgic for my college in a way that I’m never going to be nostalgic for a chain grocery store, and that I’m choosing to forget any number of genuinely obnoxious napkin notes that I read in four years at Bryn Mawr. But, I can’t help but feel that some of the people who leave comments at Whole Foods would be better served if they used a little honey to catch their flies instead of vinegar. Of course may be they’re hard core vegans and don’t believe in honey, or in catching flies, even with agave nectar.

* It kind of defies explanation; you just have to accept that it was fabulous.
** I’m shamelessly plagiarizing a note left by an actual friend of mine, who now comes to Dinner, and if she’s ever found a lady bug in a salad I’ve served, well she hasn’t written me a note about it.


Apricot Glazed Chicken
Potato Salad
Green Beans
Lightly Pickled Cucumbers


Apricot Glazed Chicken

Recipe previously given: Oscars!

chicken composite

Potato Salad

Recipe previously given: You Want Me To Do What?

potato salad composite

Green Beans

green beans

Lightly Pickled Cucumbers

Recipe previously given: Farmer’s Market Addiction

cucumber slices



  1. I always think that when I find snails on my vegetables bought at the market that it proves they were grown in real soil and are incredibly fresh. One might regard ladybirds on one’s lettuce in the same vein. They are very ecological and provide a natural deterrent to garden pests. They are just continuing to do their job right up to the last minute.

    Regarding Sweet Potato Pie: I can still remember the ones made by the head of our dining services at my college (too many years ago to want to recall). Perhaps this is a standard recipe given at conventions of Heads of College Dining Services.

    Was Shauna from the south? I think of Sweet Potato Pie as a very southern thing.

    • The ladybug in question was dead at the time that I encountered it, yet still firmly attached to the piece of lettuce. Does that change your assessment of the freshness of the lettuce, or just reaffirm your theory?

      • Hmmm. Definite reassessment in order. Wonder if that ladybird died of pesticides, old age or other natural causes.

    • General conclusion seems to be that (a) it wasn’t Shauna who made the sweet potato pie, it was Delores, and that (b) no we don’t think she was Southern. Although, I agree with you that it’s something I associate very much with the South.

      • Yes, it was Delores, not Shauna, who made the Sweet Potato Pie. And while not necessarily Southern, she is African-American so perhaps there is a Southern/soul food connection.

  2. One question… I was just checking out the chicken recipe. Let’s just say I wasn’t planning on making 4 pounds of chicken. Would you recommend reducing the amount of marinade I made? And if so, what alterations would you make to the quantities of the ingredients?

    • If you’re planning on making less chicken, you will need less marinade. I would just half or quarter the recipe as appropriate.

      When I bake the chicken I smear/pour the extra marinade over the top of the pieces because extra sauce is never bad and it bakes on to the chicken.

      Also, really really use the foil on your baking sheet. The sugar in the marinade will caramelize into an unwashable layer on your baking sheet if you don’t.

      And finally, this is something you want to do with bone-in chicken (breasts/thighs/legs/whatever). Boneless chicken will cook too fast for the marinade to caramelize effectively.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: