The most delicious thing in all of the dining halls:

Pork. Carnitas. Tacos.

These things are really freaking good. I mean like, whoa. UCLA is known for having some super tasty dorm food, but in my opinion these tacos take the prize. Let me tell you why this dish comes out on top.

  1. UCLA’s dining hall food, in general, is pretty good. But, it is still dorm food. It’s served to tons of people, so each dish isn’t going to receive a whole lot of individualized attention. That is why I think the fish so often turns out weird. Baking it en masse isn’t the same as grilling each fillet by itself. But this is exactly why these tacos are so successful; the meat is prepared in large quantities, similar to how street vendors make tacos. The infrastructure for taco preparation in the dining halls is very similar to the infrastructure for street cart taco preparation. Both are designed to feed a lot of people fairly quickly. This is the same reason why last year’s chickpea vindaloo (an Indian curry) was relatively successful. Curries can be made in large quantities without sacrificing taste or technique.
  2. The thing about these tacos, though, is that they do not require very fancy or fine ingredients (much like street tacos). This is why the curry, although able to be prepared in large quantities like the tacos, doesn’t quite make it to dorm food stardom. In general, the better the ingredients, the better the vindaloo. For carnitas tacos, pork tenderloin is certainly not required.
  3. Perhaps I am biased, but I prefer the carnitas over the chicken or beef tacos also available on the Hill. While the chicken is good, it lacks the authenticity that comes with the shredded carnitas. Similarly, the beef is good but does not stand out. I will say that a large part of this may simply be due to the fact that there are less weird foreign gristly bits in the carnitas than there are in either the chicken or beef. You probably know what I’m talking about if you have ever had a meat dish from Rendezvous (I’m generally vegetarian when I eat there).
  4. Beyond the meat, the extras are simple, yet ~delicious~. The chopped onions add a subtle crunch, and the green cilantro adds some needed color to an otherwise monochromatic dish. The corn tortillas are good and usually fresh – rarely do I have a tortilla rip from being old or stale. Finally, the array of salsas offers you the option for a spicier or milder taco; options are always nice (my favorite is the chipotle salsa – it has a nice smoky flavor).

Even though these tacos are my fave, there are a TON of other fantastic dishes available in the dining halls or in the cafes (Bolognese pizza at Cafe 1919 <3). It has been very fun so far trying out the new dishes on this year’s rotating menu, and I look forward to tasting more. If you have a dish you are particularly fond of, please leave a comment! And if you wanna check out the pork carnitas tacos, you can get them every so often for dinner in Covel.

A how to guide about saying goodbye to your parents and embracing independence

Disclaimer: This guide is really only for those of you going through a similar level of emotional distress as I went through. This level can be determined by several factors:

  • distance away from your parents (I live in the Bay Area; a 5ish hour drive or 1 hour plane flight)
  • emotional closeness with your parents (I am obsessed with my parents)
  • reliance on your parents for support (financially, emotionally, or whether or not they tuck you in at night. All apply to me)

So, in about a month and three quarters you may be moving into your NEW ROOM! Yay! Whatever, that’s exciting, but this also means that move-in might be the last time you see your parents for a while (at most until parents’ weekend). Of course, this sparks, or rather, ignites an array of emotions. These will include anxiousness, mild paranoia, a intense feeling of being overwhelmed, and panic. Don’t worry, only a little bit of each of these are present at any one time. You will never feel like quitting (maybe, but not for more than 30 seconds).

For example, the first night I spent in the dorms, I nearly drowned in my own tears. My parents had not even left UCLA yet, but the mania had set in. I imagined the workloads of my classes and knowing that my dad would not be in the next room to answer my question about wormholes. I imagined myself for the next ten weeks paralyzed with fear in my bed every night. Of course, this did not continue. The next night was much better; I cut my sweat output in half. My parents had left by then, but, miraculously, I was calmer.

The key to doing this is to take this simple two-pronged approach:

  1. Prong One – Maintain contact with your parents
    • Text them frequently
    • Call them even more frequently (I called my dad every day of the quarter, if only for a second or to leave a message of me mumbling as I ate my bagel)
    • Skype, if you’re into that. (Personally, I am more of a phone call fan. The whole seeing-a-pixelated-face thing doesn’t do it for me)
    • Make them send you packages with cookies and cute clothes
    • Email them your most interesting readings
    • Take their advice
  2. Prong Two – Relish your independence
    • Attend all events (Bruin Bash, apartment parties, beginning of the year sale, etc.)
    • Eat healthfully in the dining hall (Seriously, passing up pizza for the first five weeks made me feel like an adult/Iron Man)
    • Explore the campus alone
    • Decorate your room exactly how you want
    • Be your own freaking best friend

Obviously there is a lot more you can do to feel independent and happy about it. And there are probably other ways to keep in touch with Mom and Dad (or just Dad or Mom and Mommy or Uncle Ben or Veronica). Basically, just go balls-to-the-wall crazy for college while keeping yourself anchored at your parents’ feet. It’s mega hard but totally doable. I did, and I was a complete disaster for the first three days.

Good luck!

Momma’s Boy

So my dad and sister have been out of town for the past week. I guess it’s more like they have been out of country. My dad is in England on a business trip (which I don’t understand. If you are going to do business, go to Hawaii or Fiji, whatever), and my sister is in Belgium as an au pair. That means that it is just me and my mom! Yippee!

We always joke (but are never kidding) that my mom and I are the more sophisticated half of the family and that we enjoy the finer things in life. All this really means is that we both love going to movies and eating out at restaurants. My sister kind of just doesn’t care and my dad would rather have his toenails removed (kind of exaggerating, kind of not).

So this past week has been spent galavanting from theater to theater with pit stops in between for huge slices of pesto pizza or goat cheese and corn quesadillas. I was even lucky enough to be housesitting during this time, which came with many benefits.

  1. full range of a beautiful awesome two-story house
  2. hang out time with dogs
  3. a pool (boo yeah)
  4. free food

As an added bonus, one of my mom’s best friends lived several houses down so we got to go over to her place for dinner all the time.

This change of pace reminds me of my time at UCLA. It wasn’t my dad or sister who were out of town; it was me! And even though I was in a different place (LA is very different than the Bay Area) I was still able to do a lot of the same things I love to do with my mom.

After all, I had access to at least two free movies every week with CEC’s free dollar movies and sneak peeks, and I had a meal plan so I ate a ton (and yes, the food was less glam, but I’m creative, remember my French soda?). I also was very close to an amazing pool at Sunset Rec. And, to top it off, I got to see dogs every once in a while! Faculty who lived on the Hill had pets AND there was even a special program that brought dogs to dorms for “pet therapy” to help students destress for finals.

So, when I think about it, the time I cherish with my mom when we do a whole bunch of fun things looks a lot like my time at UCLA. That’s pretty cool.

Dining Hall French Soda

It has been a while since I have had dorm food, and today I found myself craving one of my dorm dinner creations. I have several, but this one is my favorite! If you have never had French soda before, it is essentially Italian soda (flavored syrup and soda water) with cream or milk. Here is my dining hall version:

What you’ll need:

  • one mug
  • one glass
  • a fountain soda machine that dispenses soda (carbonated) water and ice
  • a hot chocolate/vanilla machine (ours is Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf)
  • a fruit-flavored tea bag (my favorite is raspberry)
What you do:
  1. fill your mug halfway with hot vanilla and put in your tea bag. let seep for 3-ish minutes (longer for stronger flavor).
  2. while you are waiting for your hot vanilla to get nice and fruity fill your cup all the way up with ice.
  3. once your hot vanilla is ready, pour it over the ice.
  4. fill the cup the rest of the way up with soda water.
  5. drink it and be so happy.

It’s yummy and bubbly! It does take a few trips back and forth from the fountain soda machine so maybe it’s best to sit close. Enjoy and let me know if you try it one you get to school!