Sprouts Superiority

 

Choosing

Slowly but surely I am becoming good at feeding myself. Eating in the dorms was (perhaps surprisingly) very complex. The decision of where to grab lunch on the Hill almost always involved a series a calculations that included things like the number of stairs on the way to the dining hall, salad bar choices,  and the cheeriness of the dining staff; the list goes on. At first, eating in an apartment was anything but complex. Some nights I would find myself eating a pan-fried combination of whatever I had in the fridge (green beans, a slice of provolone cheese, a scrambled egg, hot sauce) that I would assemble in a hurry as my episode of Grey’s Anatomy buffered in my bedroom. Sometimes, if I was feeling especially domestic, I would make actual meals with side dishes and complete proteins. But a carefully crafted and well-planned dinner is still, really, not complex. And the only emotions I found myself experiencing swayed between vacancy and ambivalence. Cooking is fun, sure, but for the first part of summer it lacked spark. It was strangely robotic. And therefore while I was empirically good at nourishing myself, I was having a hard time feeding myself.

But recently I believe I have found the answer to my culinary conundrum. My grocery store. I’ve gone almost exclusively to Trader Joe’s until now and while TJ’s is a lovely alternative to either Whole Foods (too nice) or Ralph’s (not nice enough), something about it didn’t seem right. I think perhaps a big part of it was that during the time I lived on the Hill, Trader Joe’s was my safe haven. I would take bi-monthly treks into Westwood to forage around the snack aisles of Trader Joe’s in search of dorm-room treats. I waddled back to campus with bags full of pistachio-laden chocolates and peanut butter-filled pretzels. And each trip left me with a fierce sense of accomplishment. But now shopping at Trader Joe’s with a certain regularity has begun to make me feel alienated. While during freshman and sophomore year I consistently crowded the free sample counters, I now avoid it almost every trip. I rarely buy snacks and instead fill my cart with lots of veggies, lunch meats, and boxes of almond milk. But that’s not what Trader Joe’s is for! I like going there to buy food that isn’t quite food, more of a cute, surreal treat (where else can you buy multicolored candy-coated sunflower seeds?). And now buying real food is freaking me out.

A couple of blocks past Wilshire on Westwood Blvd sits the solution to my dilemma: a nice but not too nice grocery store called Sprouts. Having never stepped foot in a Sprouts before just a couple of weeks ago, the novelty of it is thrilling. I’m not constantly berated by reminders of the empty calories I consumed as a lowerclassman in the form of Trader Joe’s brand snicky snacks, and the store itself is spectacular. You can buy vegetables that aren’t shrink-wrapped or already pre-washed and sealed in plastic bags (which is all that I found myself buying lately). The selection offers you a much wider variety of things to make for dinner, and each aisle is filled with fun, new, exciting Sprouts brand things to try. But the best part isn’t even the great food. It is absolutely that now the process of “going to the store” is exciting. It’s complex. I have to time my shopping trips around the rush hour traffic that manifests over the course of the 8-block drive. I see new faces with every visit – true Westwooders and not just UCLA students and the few adults who live among us in the small area surrounding campus. I mean I’ve only been a couple times, but the change of pace has been thrilling. I have a renewed energy for cooking, and feeding myself in an apartment is now starting to be more fun than eating on the Hill was. A new grocery store is exactly what I needed to (quite literally) spice up my life.

Throwback to my Dorm Days

I know I’ve said this before, but one of the best parts of UCLA is the food!  Most of my first two years at UCLA were spend at Bruin Cafe.  That may sound like an exaggeration  but considering the number of meals I ate there and the hours I’ve study there (not to mention working there my freshman year), it may not be as much of an exaggeration as you might think.  Bruin Cafe serves pastries, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf drinks, sandwiches, soups, and smoothies.  It is also open from 7am to 2am!

Bruin Cafe is definitely one of the things I have missed the most about living on the Hill.  It is a great place to study or socialize!  Every time I went to Bruin Cafe, I knew I would see at least one other person I know.  Like last night!

I decided to go to Bruin Cafe to do some studying as well as see if I could get a swipe from one of my friends who still lives in the dorms. Even as I was walking in, I found five people I knew and saw several more when I sat down.  Finding a table was a success (I found one right by an electric outlet…score) and was soon joined by some other friends. My friend even offered to swipe me a chai latte and a chocolate croissant (thanks, Chelsea!)  BruinCafe did not disappoint!

BruinCafe is just an inevitable part of the on campus experience.  Because it is open early and closes late, it is the ideal place to go for a study break, a study snack, or a quick smoothie on your way to class!

If you have the means, I highly recommend their chai latte or the Bruin Fresh smoothie (pro tip: ask for smoothie #8- it will make you seem like you are an old pro)!  BruinCafe is one of the best parts of on campus dining.

P.S. Even though it is called Bruin Cafe, most students simplify it to BCaf.  If you say Bruin Cafe you will be pegged for a freshman!!

Dorm food (the best food)

You guys. UCLA’s dorm food is the best. Like really, it’s really delicious. And I will never be living in a dorm again, UCLA or otherwise, but since I have quit Hill-life, I’ve learned (like really learned) that dorm food is something to be cherished. Dining halls get a lot of props – they are all-you-can-eat buffets, after all. But the Hill’s quick-service cafes are equally (if not more) important to an on-campus resident at UCLA. Here is a quick rundown of all our fabulous to-go eateries you can munch at with your meal plan:

  1. Bruin Cafe. Or B-Caf, as it’s most commonly called. B-Caf is the original quick-service restaurant. It has all of the old cafe standbys – sandwiches, salads, coffee, pastries, smoothies, etc. B-Caf is open until 2am and therefore is the late-night Hill hangout spot on weekends and nights that you don’t have homework. Pure chocolate ice blendeds taste best during the days last (or is it very first?) meal period (from midnight to 2am). B-Caf (like all of the dining establishments on the Hill) is on a track of continuous improvement. This year better bread was introduced! Now if they could only give vegetarians and vegans an option that tasted good (much offense, vegan BBQ sandwich). Overall, great lunch spot, tables just outside.
  2. Cafe 1919. Quite possibly the most delicious place in Los Angeles (kind of stretch, kind of not). 1919 features ~contemporary Italian~ which means pizzas, panini, and salads, among other cool things (lasagna for dinner and GeLaTo!!!). Nothing is as rewarding as eating a Pepato Piatto in the triangle-shaped table terrace next to 1919 after a long day of classes. Like I said, this place serves lasagna for dinner, which includes a side caesar and a parmesan roll (drooool, so good). They also have gelato and gelato-themed desserts (think warm Ghiradelli brownie, whipped cream, hazelnuts). The coffee drinks at 1919 are also killer, so if you are hankering for an evening after-dinner espresso think of going here before braving B-Cafs coffee lines.
  3. Rendezvous. This place is a fusion restaurant in that it fuses a Mexican restaurant and an Asian restaurant (and gives the combo a French name). Both sides of the restaurant are equally tasty, though I think I’m sort of in love with the Mexican side just a little bit more. Each offers pretty basic dishes from their respective food cultures (burritos, quesadillas, fried rice, orange chicken), but the basics aren’t why I go – it’s the specials! The delectable specials! Ev-er-y day both sides feature a different special. On Mondays last year, I would run to the Mexican side for Al Pastor pork tacos (and the yummy avocado salsa). On Thursdays, I would always bring back a huge (compostable!) bowl of pho to my room. Rendez is pretty legit and has the widest variety of interesting food.
  4. De Neve Late Night. The last (and probably least frequented) quick-service cafe. Late Night, which I’m sure you could have guessed, is only offered late at night (not too late, 9-midnight). This place is essentially a diner without the diner feel (De Neve dining hall isn’t too 1950s). It has burgers (and veggie burgers (and veggie chili)), mozzarella sticks, onion rings, buffalo wings. All manner of greasy deliciousness that is washed down with a customizable milkshake (you pick the toppings and flavor of ice cream!). Late night also has an option for pizza. All I can say is that it’s pizza. Yum.

And there you have it. The wonderful world of quick-service on the Hill!

Delicious & Hilarious

Wednesday night was an excellent night for two reasons:

  1. it was delicious
  2. it was hilarious

Wednesday was the night of the Hill’s annual themed dinner. Every year, Housing & Hospitality goes above and beyond to put on a beautiful themed dinner for the residents in the dorms. Last year, the theme was Hawaiian, which meant pineapple, coconut, and plenty of spam. This year, the theme was Mediterranean (much better than last year’s, I.M.H.O.). We had a lamb dish from Morocco, spot-on chicken gyros with tzatziki, non-alcoholic sangria, and tapas galore. My plate was overflowing with olives, blue cheese, prosciutto, and Frito Mixto de Verdura (or deep-fried vegetable fritters).

If the food wasn’t enough, the decorations in the dining hall were spectacular. There were flags from Mediterranean countries painted on the windows. There were huge cheese wheels and pieces of salami that decorated the various food stations. Perhaps the best was the giant archway that you walked through when you entered the dining hall that made it seem like you were stepping on to a Mediterranean cruise.

I finished up the meal with some stellar desserts – apricots with yogurt, honey, and pistachios and a coffee-flavored ice cream cone topped with shaved chocolate and hazelnuts. Just. Wow.

After the fabulous meal, I went with some friends to go see a CEC speakers event with the Upright Citizens Brigade. They are a comedy improve group that exists around the country, and we are lucky enough to have some of them right here in L.A. The show was entirely done on the spot, and it was a mix of funny conversations and improvised songs. Everything that happened in the show was based off of topics that had been brought up in conversations onstage. For example, the show got started with an audience-given prompt – the word “juicebox” – with which the four actors used to launch into conversation. They talked about baby food (which resulted in a song about a high school where the cool thing to do was act like a baby), they talked about marathons (which resulted in a song about a marathon run by prisoners overseen by a trusting warden), and they talked about Darth Vader (which resulted in a song which featured a young girl finding out her father was Darth Vader). It was intense, and it was hilarious.

The night was great! It makes me wish every day was theme dinner day with a comedy show to finish off the evening.

Construction

I think regardless of what college campus you are on, some type of construction is happening. Chances are, the tour guide has some joke with the acronym of the university and construction. UCLA- Under Construction Like Always.

Currently, we have some really amazing projects going on. I hadn’t been up on the hill in awhile and was surprised to see how completed the new dorms surrounding Sproul Hall are coming along. In addition, two new dorms were opened this quarter and I have heard rave reviews. Guess which dorms filled up fastest during housing signups for next year?

We also just had the new south campus Court of Sciences Student Center, affectionately known as the bomb shelter, open. It is also extremely nice with several food options. As a south campus major, it is a godsend having a wonderful facility close to class.

Pauley Pavilion is beginning to look amazing. The other day I walked by and the lights were on inside- so exciting to see! I can’t wait to be battling for the 2013 NCAA Gymnastics title in there.

Go Bruins!

Princeton Ly – Apartment Hunting

 

Finals aside, one of the things you should be thinking about as a UCLA student is where you’re going to be living next year, and with who.

The dorms are of course a great option, especially if you’re just a first year this year. I’ll tell you right now, having food at the swipe of a card is very underrated. And having people clean your bathrooms? Priceless. One downside is the cost. Hill living is very expensive at times – living in a hall (Sproul Cove!?) or getting a job are some ways to offsetting this. But the convenience of living on the Hill is really unparalleled.

Apartments are of course the other main option. Most people I know seem to live west of campus – along Gayley, Veteran, Kelton, etc. – though some people go south of Wilshire to live. Aside from those poor, bus-riding souls (I kid), it’s usually still walking distance (easier with a bike or longboard), but you have to deal with leases, cooking your own food, cleaning – basically, being an independent, mature adult. It’s harder than you might think, and even if you’re up for it, finding 3-4 other people who are may be difficult.

In any case, I bring up the entire housing issue because if you want to live in an off-campus apartment, the time to start looking is now. Through the advice of friends and your own research, you will want to find (soon!) the potential buildings you’ll spend the next year or two in. My advice? Try to find a newer structure with a kind and understanding manager. Look all your potentials up online, because there are some horror stories out there. And try to live with a bunch of your friends! It’s really the only time you’ll ever to do that – believe me, after graduation, it’s going to be a pain trying to meet up – your friends are going to be working and grad-school-ing across the country.

One additional note – if you’re going to be living in the apartments next year, plan on spending your days on campus – it’s really a pain to walk back and forth from the apartments to school, and a huge waste of time, too, if you do it more than once.

Good luck!

-Princeton

My Visit to the Lovely Ashe Center

Once upon a time, I woke up to the worst sore throat I’ve ever had. It was extremely painful and on top of that I had a discussion and a lecture to attend. Eeeek. In high school, one could easily just tell mom and dad that you weren’t feeling too well so they could call the attendance office and you could spend a couple days resting and getting better. In college, things work a little differently. Most students have very busy schedules and commitments that can not be broken. I didn’t really know what to do so I thought I would sleep it off and hoped I would feel better when I woke up. I definitely slept but I didn’t feel any better when I woke up. I actually felt worse.

I finally broke down and made an appointment at the lovely Ashe Center. The Arthur Ashe Center Student Health and Wellness Center is located in Bruin Plaza and is right next to the John Wooden Center. It was very convenient since they take same day appointments and I was able to get in and out before I had to go to class. Thank goodness I live on The Hill.

If you’ve never been inside the Ashe Center it’s actually an amazing facility (like many other UCLA buildings) and has a welcoming non-intimidating atmosphere. After completing a quick health survey and spending a few moments in the waiting room, I was up for my appointment. Once the doctor arrived, everything was pretty quick. I answered some health questions and took a strep throat test. (Thankfully I did not have strep throat!) I was out within 45 minutes. The great thing is that the Ashe Center is available to UCLA students. Even if it’s just a cold or sore throat, it’s comforting to know that there is a place to go (conveniently located in bruin plaza) if you ever get sick or feel a little under the weather.

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.

Moving into Westwood Village North

This past weekend, I moved into Westwood Village North, where a cluster of apartments have been in the area for some time now, to serve UCLA students who typically move out of the dorms after their second or third undergraduate year.  At UCLA, we don’t have to worry about moving off campus right away (some friends at another university had to frantically look for an apartment after their freshman year) because we lead the UCs in guaranteeing housing for three years, and are currently working on guaranteeing four.  That’s something we’re very proud of because it gives students ample time to accustom themselves to the neighborhood around school and  gain “street” knowledge of the real estate market in Westwood.

I myself moved out of the dorms a year earlier than necessary because I wanted a taste of apartment life and having my own living room.  However, I already miss many things about the dorms. Where else can you walk to see all your friends within 5 minutes?  Where else do you have easy access to half a dozen residential restaurants, half of which have takeout options, one of which has gelato, and another a coffee shop?  And if I wanted a living room, choosing a suite in Hitch or Saxon would have given me exactly that.  Although it is nice to have your own furniture and kitchen, I’m so glad to have gone through the dorming experience, where I didn’t have to worry about cooking and had the opportunity to meet 10,000 other residents living on the Hill.

10 Things on Your Hill Bucket List

  1. Study in Covel Commons computer lab or study rooms.
  2. Try gelato at Cafe 1919.
  3. Eat in all of the residential restaurants at least once.
  4. Study in your house/floor study lounge.  Great place to meet people in your house/floor!
  5. Study in another house/floor’s study lounge.  Great way to meet others in your residential community!
  6. Play basketball or volleyball on the courts near the Suites.
  7. Work out or hang out at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
  8. Order De Neve Late Night pizza to share with roommates and floormates.
  9. Line up at Bruin Cafe for coffee during the rush right before it closes at 2 a.m.
  10. Watch TV or play pool/ping pong in the huge lounge in Hedrick Summit.

Floor Government (and why you shoudn’t be anything except for Publicity Chair)

When you get into your dorm room as a first year, you are going to be assaulted with information. You will get info on alcohol danger, what to do when you are walking home alone at night, how to join the writer’s club, etc etc. One thing that your RAs will be pushing on you hardcore is to get involved in floor government, like being your floor’s President, VP, Birthday Chair, or really whatever wacky position there is either available on paper or in your mind (one floor had an official floor ninja). Of the legitimate positions, there is one position that I highly recommend. And that is Publicity Chair.

This may sound biased as I was Publicity Chair for my floor last year, and I kicked major butt. Not really, I did OK. But here are the three reasons why you should be your floor’s publicity chair:

  1. Scented markers. You all know those Mr. Sketch markers from when you were in Kindergarten? The ones that are different colors and smell like fake pie and nostalgia? Yes, well, you get a full set of those when you are Publicity Chair. One of your jobs (hey wait, your only job) as Publicity Chair is to make posters and fliers. Most of the time I made mine on the computer and then emailed them over to my RA who then printed them in the ORL office, but on occasion I would take out my Mr. Sketchs and a roll of butcher paper I had stuffed behind my bed and make a (really cute) poster. Not only is poster-making a ton of fun and a great excuse to procrastinate from real work, but you get to use Mr. Sketch markers. And get to kill brain cells by means of inhaling marker fumes.
  2. Like a said before, Publicity chair is one of the established floor government positions and is recognized as a worthwhile job. When you tell a prospective student’s parent that you are involved in floor government and then tell her your position is “Cupcake Lover for D3”, she is not going to take you very seriously. You may laugh and your friends may laugh, but Publicity chair gets you respect with the adults (not to mention, it could help you get an internship if your competitor has the same resume as you except floor government).
  3. Yeah, so what? What makes Publicity Chair better than President? Or External VP? If every position is legit, why not choose another? Because the other ones require a ton of work. Presidents have to run the floor meetings once a week and go to other meetings on the Hill, as do the other floor government positions. The only other position that does not need to go to extra meetings and do legitimate governmental-like work is the Birthday Chair but their job is kind of tedious. They have to make a “Happy Birthday!” sign for every person on the floor (and get ugly stares when they forget someone’s birthday). Publicity Chair is not tied down by meetings and crazy amounts of work but still makes a valuable contribution to the floor.

These reasons are kind of silly and really do not represent the attitude you should have if you want to be involved in happenings on the Hill. But, if you are like me, it is a good opportunity for you to sort of feel like you are part of something without over-committing yourself and then debating if you should bring your flashcards to Monday’s  Hill government meeting or just skip it altogether. If you get nothing else from this post, please just remember that Publicity Chair = Mr. Sketch markers. With that information, the choice should be an easy one.