A dash of insight with a pinch of zest

Tufts Dining Services and Tufts Community Union Senate's annual Cause Dinner, which will take place in Carmichael and Dewick-MacPhie Dining Centers will benefit Tufts Timmy Global Health. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

“Go forth confidently, even when you aren’t.” “Try new things.” “Don’t be afraid of failure.” I got to Tufts armed with a slew of advice and wisdom from people I respected and looked up to. I was amped to make the most of my college experience and I’d convinced myself I was ready for it.

But there was one thing the counsel of my elders and my inflated bravado hadn’t prepared me for. I was not ready for the places I’d go every day before and after class. I was not ready for the institutions responsible for turning budding friendships into beautiful lotus gardens. I was not ready for some of the most hallowed establishments at Tufts — I was not ready for the dining halls.

I mean, obviously I was pumped about my magical unlimited meal plan privileges. Swiping in with liberty and gusto, I waltzed all over Dewick and Carm from the waffle maker to the salad bar to the soft-serve ice cream machine. After some serious exploration, the burrito line and peach rings in Hodgdon quickly became my main jam. 

Yet, while I had my initial romp through these nutritional havens, the excitement soon faded. I developed favorites and stopped trying new things. My salad was the same almost every day and my main courses devolved into a routine. Mind you, the food was never bad — you don’t have to be a chef to realize the cuisine at Tufts is pretty good — but I became complacent.

This changed halfway through my sophomore year. One day, as I looked down at the same shoelace fries I ate every Tuesday alongside the customary taco salad, I decided enough was enough. Tufts had put all this food in front of me and I’d taken sufficient statistics to know the amount of combinations of my options was greater than what I was taking advantage of.

From that day forward, I started mixing dining hall ingredients to create as unique a gastronomic experience as possible. What follows are some of the best combos I’ve come across, the ingredients to which can be found almost any day of the week.

1. Seasoned fries: Tufts Dining makes its own sometimes, but you can make them all the time. Just get two bowls and fill one with fries followed by a little drizzle of olive oil. In the second, add your spices/mix-ins, found by the condiments in Dewick, and by the pizza station and salad bar in Carm. (I go with poultry seasoning, Parmesan cheese and a bit of garlic powder.) Sprinkle over your fries, clamp the two bowls together and shake.

2. Vanilla soft-serve ice cream with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. On sundae Sundays (or Sunday sundaes? It’s a perpetual mystery here), swap the cereal for crushed Oreos and add some peanut butter.

3. Layered slushies in Hodgdon. Red with blue or red with yellow are solid bets. Yeah, fine, these are pretty obvious choices — but they’re equally as life changing. (Also, freshmen: Before you do anything you regret, the brown is coffee flavored, not Coca-Cola.)

4. Back to ice cream: Put Nutella and maybe some peanut butter on the inside of a cone before adding the creamy stuff. 

5. Loaded waffles. Put a liberal amount of Nutella on your golden, gridded masterpiece, followed by about the same amount of strawberry syrup. Then, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and add a chopped banana. Top it off with a drizzle of maple syrup if you have a really good dentist.

6. Peanutellanana toast: Exactly what it sounds like —  toast topped with peanut butter, Nutella and banana.

7. The best damn hot chocolate ever: This recipe has brought my friendships to new levels and is best served between November and March. Fill a coffee mug 2/3 of the way with hot chocolate (stop pressing the button when it gets to about halfway). Then, add a shot of hazelnut coffee, leaving a half-inch of space for a swirl of whipped cream (typically by the waffle makers in Carm and the ice cream machines in Dewick). Finally, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top. Repeat, making three to four more cups. Congratulations, you’re now a saint to everyone at your table.

This list is not exhaustive and I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick with the foods you know you’ll like. But those should be the meals you can always rely on, not the only ones you eat. Try new things and don’t be afraid of failure. Dig into your creations confidently. Last but not least, be sure to thank the dining staff that makes it all possible.

P.S. I’m a senior with a very limited amount of meals. If you ever want to guest me in to a dining hall, I’ll happily make you one of the above items in exchange for your generosity.