Inviting Writing: Alchemy in the College Cafeteria | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Inviting Writing: Alchemy in the College Cafeteria

We asked you for stories about college food in this month's Inviting Writing, and it's been fun to read the responses so far. If you haven't submitted yours yet, there's still time—please send it to FoodandThink@gmail.com by September 3rd.Let's start off with this one from Eve Bohakel Lee, a Louisv...

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We asked you for stories about college food in this month's Inviting Writing, and it's been fun to read the responses so far. If you haven't submitted yours yet, there's still time—please send it to FoodandThink@gmail.com by September 3rd.

Let's start off with this one from Eve Bohakel Lee, a Louisville, Kentucky-based writer and editor who apparently shared my fondness for marshmallow goo as a college freshman...

Alchemy in a Bowl By Eve Bohakel Lee

In my freshman year at Indiana University, I became acquainted with two things I’d had scant experience with previously: Rice Krispy Treats and chemistry. Both took place in the cafeteria of my dorm, and were interdependent.

Apparently, eating Rice Krispy treats with plastic utensils doesn't work.

As a kid, Rice Krispy Treats were something that you had at someone else’s house. I had the impression that they must have been very difficult to make, because my mother, possessing merely rudimentary cooking skills, never made them. And I’d barely survived chemistry class in high school, so would not have consciously sought it out if not for the promise of something closer to alchemy.

It was fall—a magical time of year in Bloomington—so I should have expected something wondrous, but I was unprepared to find it in the cafeteria at eight o’clock on a Friday morning. A girl at my table had a sweet-smelling concoction in front of her, which she was eating from a ceramic bowl with a spoon. The mysterious compound looked delicious and irresistibly messy.

As I silently speculated about the identity of her decadent dish, staring at its lumps and goo, she took one more heaping teaspoonful, looked up at me, and said, “Rice Krispy Treats.”

How? How had I missed that going through line?

“Come here,” she said, rising and licking her spoon one last time. “I’ll show you.”

I followed her to the cereal station. She scooped a bit of Rice Krispies into a new bowl, topped it with four or five butter pats and scattered a layer of tiny marshmallows from the hot cocoa dispenser on top of it. She tossed another butter pat on top before putting the bowl into the microwave.

“How long do you cook it for?” I asked.

“Until the door blows off,” she joked, then glanced through the door and stopped the oven after about 20 seconds. She pulled her sleeves over her hands and removed a bubbling mini-cauldron of melted goo.

“Stir this up,” she said, as she produced a spoon and stuck it into the bowl. I obeyed.

“And voila! Rice Krispy Treats,” my new friend said, proud as a mad scientist announcing her latest invention.

She carried the bowl back to our table and I gingerly dug in and raised the spoon to my mouth.

I wasn’t thinking that the treat wasn’t perfectly square, or that the bowl would require an hourlong soaking to restore it to its original shine, or even that the confection had the ability to pull out multiple fillings in one mouthful.

I tasted it, and the feeling of power to do what I wanted shot through me. I was a grown-up. I could make Rice Krispy Treats whenever I wanted—even at breakfast. Magic.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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