Nostalgia, in a bowl

In my mind, the meal-in-a-bowl is a quintessential young person thing. I always imagined true adulthood as at time when you start eating off of plates, large ones, piled with the main food groups. You might put a salad in a bowl, but that’s on the side. Never the main event.

Here’s the thing though: it’s 2017, and eating out of bowls, this private, hovering-over-my-lap-watching-reruns-of-Friends activity of my youth, is actually kind of trendy now. In Austin, people line up for ramen 7 days a week. I absolutely cannot stop eating acai bowls, which are basically smoothies without the straw. Trendy restaurants serve delicate appetizers in bowls as if the smooth, protective wall around the food somehow justifies the enormous price tag.

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One of the best bowls of food on earth, crawfish etoufee.

As 30 begins to slowly wave at me, so close I can taste it, I have a feeling that I, or rather we, as a generation, are totally ok leaving the plates in our parents’ kitchens.

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My very real obsession: the acai bowl. See recipe page for ingredient ideas.

I’ve always been a cereal eater, a Chinese food-enjoyer, a soup appreciator. But my finesse with the creating my own meal-in-a-bowl actually began in college.
I started cooking–as in really trying to feed myself–sophomore year. We lived in a very old, very dusty, very dirty apartment at 40th and Pine that I loved dearly; it was the first place that felt more like home to me than home. We painted the living room wall red and covered it with the covers to vinyl albums ranging from Led Zeppelin to Broken Social Scene: music we adored. We filled the room with a hand-me-down plaid couch, damaged wooden furniture, and the tiniest of TVs (how we convinced folks to come over for the Super Bowl is beyond me). I hung tapestries from my bedroom wall and my floor was an ever-evolving sea of clean and dirty clothes. It always smelled like olive oil and “incense” and dust and shampoo in there. It was college, and it was our little piece of Philly. And I kinda miss it.

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I endured lots of trial and error in the apartment’s oh-so-gross kitchen, weeping real tears over failed mac and cheese (you can’t just put cheese and milk and noodles in the oven and expect magic to happen), getting frustrated with our miniature pasta cooking pot, failing to eat vegetables before they went bad. We were all in it together, though. All five of us were pretty clueless; every trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market was filled with promise: would we actually figure it out this time? Or was it going to be omelette night again?

The first meal we managed to master was one that became famous in our little 5-person hovel: the Pasta Creation.

You cook pasta. You throw in cannellini beans sautéed in garlic, cut up some chicken tenders you cooked in olive oil, maybe even heat up frozen broccoli or peas and throw that in there too. Pesto was a popular option, but you could mix in anything. You cover it all with Kraft Parmesan cheese, curl up on the couch, and eat it, out of a bowl. Healthy? No. But we were 20. And not those kinds of girls.

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A vegetarian take on the old faithful, with oyster mushrooms, sweet onion and peas.

Almost a decade later, I’d like to think my cooking style has become slightly more sophisticated. In reality, not much has changed.

I cook pasta in a properly sized pot now. I make brown rice instead of white, waiting the agonizing 45 minutes while I wander around chopping vegetables or take out the trash or participate in other seemingly adult means of passing the time. I use only fresh vegetables, always totally bummed out when the supply is depleted (it happens quickly now). I can make a decent sauce, one that is properly thickened, and I never have to set a timer while I cook. I understand flavor better, and can guess what a dish needs or doesn’t need. I try to eat at our kitchen table to avoid getting cheese on our new grownup couch. My meals-in-a-bowl are no longer piñatas of what was left in my fridge; there is thought put into each one.

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Brown rice cooked in a savory broth, topped with roasted sweet potatoes, zucchini, and apples

At the end of the day though, it’s still a bunch of food, piled in a bowl. Call it nostalgia, call it ease-of-execution, call it trendy even, but I started cooking this way, and can’t seem to stop. Instead of fighting it, I intend to collect every last recipe I can find that encourages me to eat out of this beautiful, round little implement. Though no recipe could possibly emulate the satisfaction that accompanied our college-era creations, it is nice to be reminded of how it all started, and how far we’ve come.

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