I'm on my college class reunion committee, and the alumni office had a virtual luncheon today for class agents. The icebreaker was your favorite food from the dining hall while you were a student.
Now, I'm not sure if it's my favorite exactly, but there was some dining hall food that changed my life.
I came to college as a provincial, leaving my small town for, well, another small town, but one that hosted an elite academic institution and the cosmopolitan community that implies. And I swear that, to the best of my knowledge, the only bread available in my hometown was Wonder Bread and the equivalent "whole wheat" bread. We did not have a bakery (except for donuts).
Our college, however, did (or, it was rumored, they got their bread from the local Amish). In any case, every day in our dining hall featured an array of freshly baked breads for the taking. If I gained 10 pounds my freshman year--and I did--it was surely all bread weight.
Because this bread was a revelation. That other stuff was fine for sandwiches, but this was bread fit for the holiest of communions. Yes please, I will always have seconds.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and when I returned home from college that first summer, I returned to a desolate wasteland (in terms of bakeries--it wasn't that bad otherwise).
And so I taught myself how to bake bread, first from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (my mother's kitchen Bible), and then from other cookbooks and individual recipes.
What's more, this kicked off an interest in the culinary arts more broadly. Talking about baking with actual adults earned me recommendations for cookbooks like The Moosewood series, The Joy of Cooking, and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. And I tried my hand at a little of everything.
Cooking, in turn, broadened my tastes, and I went from an extremely picky kid to an adventurous adult. All of which, it could be said, I owe to the fresh bread in my college dining hall.