It started when my mother gave me the look. It is the look that leaves parents pacing and teenage hearts racing; it is the prelude to a year of sleepless nights. And this look was followed by a deep sigh between my mother and father across the dinner table.
It was the last supper. Specifically, my last home-cooked meal before another year at college.
“Grab another spoonful of vegetables, it’s good for you,” my mother said. But the expression plastered across her face translated it to, “Just stay at the table — no, home — a little longer.” Aware that only one of the requests had a reasonable solution, I stuffed my already growing food baby a little more while we chatted about a new biking trail my parents had stumbled upon.
The next day, my parents brought me to my home away from home: Hopkins. We sat with one another at Honeygrow because there was something about their sesame garlic sauce that made my parents salivate like a Pavlovian dog.
I usually didn’t talk much during our typical Honeygrow send-off lunch because:
- I didn’t want to interrupt the experience that their taste buds were having
- It was easier to not think about the reason for why we were sitting there
But alas, it was a piece of broccoli that brought up the latter. My mom looked at a sizeable piece of broccoli squeezed between chopsticks and gave me the look again — followed by another sigh and a classic statement delivered by my health-oriented mother.
“Promise you’ll eat your vegetables, okay?”
(Normally the expression means what it means. But during my send-off, it meant: promise you’ll remember us and call home.)
So, I did what any reasonable 19 year old would do to solve her current situation. I ate.
Later that evening, I felt a twinge in my stomach. I’d say it was hunger, but to be frank, I think I’m perpetually hungry. This feeling was different. It was a longing for a plate of food at my unassigned but assigned seat that gave me a really great view of the growing pine tree that my brother and I had recklessly planted too close to our home’s window.
Thankfully, I have two of the greatest roommates. They suggested there was only one way to spend our first night back together and so, the infamous Pasta Night was born. We rounded up our fresh supply of a box of our agreed-upon favorite pasta (bowties, of course) and got the water boiling. And then, we heated up a jar of marinara sauce to top off our college cooking extravaganza, and prepared to stuff ourselves.
But that wasn’t enough. Before we knew it, our dinner for three became a dinner for ten, as our friends slowly piled in to celebrate everyone’s first night back. One friend brought a plate of lemon chicken, a dish he had perfected over the summer; while another, had prepared a salad with an extra fancy twist (they toasted almond slices! Emphasis on the toasted!) And so, we all crowded together over a makeshift long table and chatted as if the summer months hadn’t separated us. As I gazed across the room at my friends and the food we had artfully prepared before us, my homesickness (and my hunger) was eased.
A few days later, I felt the same twinge again. To remedy that, my roommates and I had our own mini Pasta Night with macaroni and cheese — there’s just something strangely comforting about a heaping bowl of pasta. Everything was going smoothly until one of my roommate’s used the wrong side of our saltshaker and created a small salt mountain atop our macaroni. Although we couldn’t compare this to our own parents’ baked macaroni and cheese, it was still one of my most laughable moments at a dinner table as we each made faces while trying to tell ourselves that the saltiness was an acquired taste. (It also made it as one of our prized YIKES moments)
(A tapestry we have to immortalize our best YIKES moments, which of course, features our salt snafu.)
We have a few other prized moments in our little suite kitchen ranging from us trying to cook our own lemon piccata chicken, pancakes, and garlic bread. Yet, we have other moments such as the time we cooked an amazing meal of salmon and brown rice (I consider it amazing because that was the first time any of us had ever cooked salmon).
And then, there was one random Tuesday night in October when my two roommates and I were craving soup for dinner. They slowly warmed up a few cans of soup on our stovetop until I remembered the teachings of my mother. Much to the chagrin of my friends, I insisted on tossing in some fresh spinach leaves and cut-up mushrooms — I needed to have my vegetables.
After the vegetables had cooked down in our (not-so) homemade soup, we sat down at our kitchen table. It might not have been as well-crafted as the soup my mother makes, but I could barely notice the difference. Because while sitting with my two friends, chatting over our day and laughing way too hard at things that were much funnier in the moment, it felt like I was home; it felt like family. (Except now I was the one nagging everyone to eat more vegetables).
Nancy Z. is a sophomore from Long Valley, NJ majoring in public health studies and psychology and minoring in marketing and communications. On campus, she’s a peer health educator with PEEPs, volunteers with KEEN, works at the Rec Center and is a research assistant at HEN Lab at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. When asked to describe Hopkins in one sentence, Nancy said “Hopkins has the most passionate and kind people that I have ever met.”