"People will tell you how great you are for not burning the pancakes (or for only burning them a little bit), and you will be."image4u/ pixabay

There are lots of things in Cambridge that people don’t call by their actual names. Honestly, Cambridge often doesn’t seem quite real, even after six terms here (full disclosure: I did first year twice), so I suppose the oddity of the language makes a certain kind of sense. Student kitchens, for example, are usually called ‘gyps’. My mum always describes feeling a bit sick as ‘having a gippy tummy’, which didn’t exactly create good associations with this word, but these kitchens, nevertheless, have been an important sanctuary for me in my time here.

I loved to cook before I loved to eat. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve found that in some small way, learning to love food means learning to love yourself. But when you don’t quite love yourself enough to make mashed potatoes and gravy, or anything at all, you’ll hopefully love some other people enough to want to feed them, and sit together, whether around a kitchen table or tucked in bed watching Netflix, drinking wine or mugs of tea. That’s a way in.

Cooking doesn’t have to be sophisticated or middle class, or have more than two ingredients. Cooking doesn’t just have to be something someone else does on TV. Heating up, in my view, is cooking. Using Very Lazy chilli and ginger is cooking. And microwave cooking creates some of the most godly cuisine known to freshers around the globe.

Some of my main go-to dishes are from a ‘baby and child’ vegetarian cookbook decorated with dancing, anthropomorphised mushrooms and aubergines. Quite middle class, admittedly, but not at all sophisticated or, in the most literal sense, adult. Yet I’ve been asked for one of the recipes a couple of times, at a wine tasting of all places. 

Cooking is time carved out just for you, and the people you choose to invite in

Sometimes, going to hall or buying a sandwich is the right choice, or the only one. Often, though, it feels like Cambridge conspires to take the choice of cooking away from us.

Your kitchen might be the size of a box of Frosties, and there’s hot food just waiting for you minutes away when you live in college. You’re always tired, sometimes hungover, and usually hungry. Making your own tea can end up at the bottom of a very long list of priorities. But cooking is time carved out just for you, and the people you choose to invite in. Simply deciding what you want to eat, and then eating it, has its own invisible value. It can make everything outside feel that little bit smoother and more bearable, like a slick of salted butter on a slightly stale bit of toast.

You don’t need to do anything complicated. All you really need to do is warm something up for a friend, then eat it together. That’s it, that’s the recipe, and that’s enough.

Cambridge can kill any routine, or even the sense of there being an appropriate time for anything. We all work differently, but going to Cindie’s till late then coming back to write an essay (I really don’t recommend this) is enough to leave anyone feeling grumpy and disoriented. So eating at least three times a day, at a roughly similar time, can help you feel like term isn’t completely floating away from you.

Let your day revolve around your body and your needs, not just your work schedule. 

If the thought of 9am lectures gets you up in the morning, then that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t really do much for me. What gets me up, instead, is the prospect of warm oats, bananas and golden syrup; the idea of doing something that won’t be marked, discussed or scrutinised. Something that will simply be enjoyed, then gone, and that will be the end of it.

If you’ve done nothing else all day, pouring some ingredients into a pan, or putting a bowl in the microwave, can remind you that – despite anything you might be dealing with – you really are clever and capable. I’ve found that rice pudding has an unbeatable kind of sugary, carby alchemy that puts right, at least temporarily, so many problems.


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Cooking isn’t the only thing that can make you feel warm inside, but for me nothing else brings together physical and emotional sustenance quite like it. Making your own food combines providing for a basic need and doing whatever the hell you like in a way I find irresistible. Want the structure of a recipe? Make a perfectly baked cake, following each step to the letter. Feel like chucking the most random, unholy congregation of ingredients into a pan and hoping for the best? You go for it - what’s the worst that could happen? Cooking doesn’t always turn out well, but most kitchen mishaps are solvable, impermanent, or simply hilarious. 

And so I’ll keep on cooking imperfectly. My lopsided, wonky labours of love will take me through tears, laughter, missed deadlines, exam revision, and all kinds of everyday and exceptional troubles. Cooking is a thing I’ll come back to, to remind myself that the perfect is the enemy of the slightly-charred but wonderfully tasty. People will tell you how great you are for not burning the pancakes (or for only burning them a little bit), and you will be. Truly.

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