Most Grinnellians have a meal plan, which means that every day they hand over their P-Cards to be swiped and enter the fray of the dining hall. The hyper-social atmosphere of the dining hall often overshadows the very reason we’re all there, the food. I believe that this frenzied atmosphere often leads people to mindlessly and hastily pile food on their tray, without consciously trying to create a quality meal. My tolerance of most any flavor along with my abhorrence of being forced to eat bland food prompted the discovery that certain combinations of food create a more novel culinary creation than your average dining hall fare.

This first dish was inspired by the long wait for pasta. During my early days at Grinnell, I attempted to stand in this line, but frequently succumbed to boredom and left. This impatience turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I discovered the phenomenon that is “Make Your Own Pasta.” The first step for creating this dish is to simply get the daily special or just pasta with sauce. What to some is a finished meal is merely the beginning. Head over to the Grill, and if you eat meat, garnish your pasta with some meat broken up into smaller bits. Next, stroll on over to the vegan section, which usually has other delicious toppings such as lentils or kale. Mix this all in with your pasta. Make sure to swiftly eye the stir fry, and if you so please, spoon a little on top! I have found the Szechuan shrimp mixes especially well with pasta. One trick I often employ is to simply ladle some savory sauce either from the stir fry station or the vegan option on top of my noodles.

Next, venture to the salad bar. Often associated only with making salads, this station actually boasts a wide array of toppings to spruce up any meal. For pasta, I usually sprinkle on some mushrooms, tomatoes, olives and then cheddar cheese. Then meander to the microwave to melt the cheese over this conglomeration of zesty flavors. If you’re like me, you can never add too much flavor, top off your pasta with a pinch of lemon pepper from the spice rack and a dash of vinegar. Recently, I have been adding a handful of raisins to the very top of my pasta, to throw in a subtle sweetness to contrast with all of this savory.

Now I understand if it takes you a few weeks to work up to the raisin level. Yet I challenge everyone to take the time to spice up their dinner, literally! An added bonus is your plate will stand out like a colorful peacock at your table. Just one warning, be prepared to defend your dish from both curious and salivating friends.

For dessert, if you don’t see anything that catches your eye, why not create a milkshake?  First, add a serving of ice cream. Then add a dollop of any of the following: peanut butter, chocolate sauce, a mashed up banana, or berries. The whole time you should be stirring your creation. Lastly add milk (chocolate milk if you’re on a cocoa kick). But wait, you aren’t done! Head back over to the dessert section and try to find a dessert that lends itself to a good crumble, such as a cookie. Sprinkle this on top of your milkshake and mix it all together one last time. There you have it, a blend of saccharine tastes and contrasting textures to create one self-made and decadent dairy treat.

One of the greatest things about taking more time and effort to create these dishes is you get to assemble them yourself. You avoid risking the possibility of poorly cooked beef, too much garlic, or a less than satisfying dessert. The dining hall is often referred to as a “nightmare”, and even if this label is humorous, most Grinnellians dread going at some point. I cannot remedy the awkward small talk while waiting for the microwave or the uncomfortably bright lighting of the main section. Yet I can provide you with the tools to boldly assert more control and purpose in the construction of your next meal. When the daily routine becomes unbearable and you are fed up with everything at Grinnell from your classes to your friends, fear not. While eating dinner, at least now you can enjoy a glimmer of novelty, in the form surprisingly mouth-watering and innovative dining hall culinary creation.