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Life Post-College Part 1: The Food Problem

After four years of living with the rest of the blandfill, I am now living alone in an apartment in a new city.  This post is the first installment in a series about adjusting to life post-college.

All throughout college, I had access to all-you-can-eat dining halls.  Surprisingly, this did not result in significant weight gain freshman year (although sophomore spring was a different story).  After chatting with friends from other schools, I realized that living on-campus all four years is a fairly atypical college experience, and by graduation, most people have been cooking for themselves for several years.

For the first time in my life, I am faced with the issue of acquiring and preparing food for myself.  It’s not that I’m culinarily challenged; having frequently assisted my parents at home, I feel comfortable around a range and cutting boards.  I have a few goals in establishing my post-college diet:

  1. Cook at home whenever possible.  Only go out to restaurants with other people.  Restaurant food tends to be high in fat and/or sodium, especially given my tendency to stuff my face when I’m out with friends.
  2. Don’t count calories, but all calories should count.  Basically, I don’t care how much I eat as long as it’s healthy.
  3. High protein.  This has mainly been in the form of chicken, beef and supplementary whey.
  4. Low carbs.  I’m gluten-intolerant, so I shouldn’t consume wheat products anyway.
  5. No junk food.  This has been incredibly easy since I don’t buy junk food anymore.
  6. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  I keep a steady supply in the fridge.

The main problem of cooking is finding motivation to make a relatively complex dish (something with more than four or five ingredients) when I come home from work and finishing all of the ingredients before they expire.

The problem can be somewhat mitigated by purchasing premade sauces.  My parents helped me move into my new place, and before they returned home, they left me with a large supply of spices and other basic ingredients, including ginger, green onions, and garlic, the three fundamental components of Chinese dishes.  Green onions do not have a very long shelf-life, so I used them up early on, but I’m still stuck with a hoard of other ingredients that I will most likely not use.  I am aware that they accentuate the flavors of foods, but I am usually too lazy to prepare and properly proportion them in a dish.  Instead, I have been using premade sauces (e.g. Soyaki sauce).

Trader Joe’s Gift to Lazy People

When I’m not stir-frying, I use a George Foreman grill for cooking meat; of course, my use of it stems from the above problem of not wanting to make any complex dishes, but it’s surprisingly efficient, and a lot of grease drains away, just as advertised.  For leafy greens like lettuce, bok choy, and spinach, I just boil them in water and dip them in soy sauce or eat them plain.

This latter part wouldn’t have been possible for me a few  years ago, but my tastes significantly changed in college, and for some reason, I like eating plain boiled spinach now.  My hypothesis is that I now subconsciously associate bitterness with nutrition, and that overrides the immediate perception of a bad taste (only for vegetables, doesn’t work for alcohol).

Right now, I’m only cooking dinner and weekend meals.  Breakfast is usually very simple; one or two hardboiled eggs, milk, fruit, and sometimes cereal.  During the week, I have been buying lunch in the company cafeteria.  The selection isn’t the best; they have a variety of burgers and chicken sandwiches at the grille and a rotating menu at the ethnic cuisine station.  I’ve been considering bringing my own lunches; it would be healthier and more cost effective (I’m currently spending ~$10 a day for not very much food).  Once I perfect a method of mass-cooking chicken breasts (I haven’t touched my oven yet), I’ll probably start bringing food.

Maybe I should devote a meal each weekend to making a dish I’ve never tried before.  Dinner parties, anyone?

snap, pop, ow

[Warning: written mostly late, late last night, and then worked on some more today after I’d forgotten what I wanted to say. Probably rambling.]

So I’m at grad school too! (In the computer science program at CMU.) I moved in last week and have been listening to professors give talks about their research since then. Work hasn’t started per se, but the pressure to find an advisor is on — we need to select a few choices and put them on a form by September 24th. This is unfortunately difficult for someone who, like me, hasn’t really specialized in any of the fields he’s interested in. (Digression: I realized at some point over the summer that this may possibly all stem from taking Math 25 instead of Math 55, way back in freshman year. I sort of tried doing 55 until add-drop day, but never quite with the full intention of carrying through with it. As a result, I got a negligible score on the first midterm and ended up falling in with the 25 crowd. Once there, I was — to drop all pretensions of modesty — more or less at the top of the crowd, so by sticking with them, I ended up pushing myself much less than I might’ve, in terms of class selection. It’s also relevant that I graduated in three years with some certification in each of three subjects. Still, I think it was the right choice to branch out a bit.) But I hope and believe that by getting more in-depth information from a few professors, I’ll be able to figure something out.

In more exciting news, I managed to sprain my ankle on the second day of school. The story: a professor was holding a picnic at her house for the new students. A game of volleyball started, and after a while I joined in, and eventually took my shoes off. The ball went into a neighboring yard, as it did every once in a while, and I went to retrieve it. On the way back, I attempted to jump down over a ledge from the yard to the driveway. It was only a foot or two high, but I also had to leap several feet horizontally to avoid stepping too much on the neighbors’ landscaping rocks. I landed. It went poorly. I limped back to the party.

Cue much attention from everyone, including an admirable performance by the hosting professor as a medic. She had extra-large ibuprofen, and even a pair of crutches lying around somewhere. I went to UHS the next day, and then to Shadyside Hospital to get an X-ray, as they recommended. No bones were broken, and I was just given an Aircast brace to use for a couple of days. Now (one week later), I’m just about able to walk around a bit, and hopefully I’ll be walking normally by tomorrow or the day after. I’ll be glad to be normal again, but I’ve had some interesting times operating under these novel constraints (going up or down stairs four at a time with crutches is fun!). I think I used the crutches a little too roughly, though; the bottoms are wearing through.

Some thoughts from the past week:

“College was supposed to be the time for bad decisions, not grad school!” (I said this right after I got injured, while some folks were helping me get to a chair. Someone asked, “Where did you go for undergrad?” “Harvard.” “Well, maybe not that college…”)

“Man, my leg muscles are going to be all asymmetric in a week.” (They are now.)

“I wish I had more upper body strength.” (Going around on these crutches has probably been the best thing for my upper body strength in… a long time.)

“Well, I can cross ‘use crutches while naked’ off my bucket list.” (Not actually on my bucket list.)

 

I leave you with this:
“And ladies, I am all about putting theories into practice!”
— T-Rex

(I am indeed hoping to do some putting of theories into practice while I’m here.)


Update: I’ve gotten to be able to walk around without crutches and with only mild discomfort and limping. I went to UHS again today, and it seems things are coming along alright. I got some stretch bands to use for exercise. Hopefully I’ll feel normal walking in another week or so; it’ll be a few weeks more before I’m really back to normal (though the physician did say that it’ll never quite be the same, unfortunately).

“…! ‘We can sexy’ is totally going to be my epitaph! For reals!”
— T-Rex

Short story and a request

Behold, Dear Readers!

Here’s my life update. I am now a graduate student in the Physics and Astronomy (PandA, pronounced panda) program at Johns Hopkins University. I watched all of the Wire to prepare, and was disappointed to learn that the entire series was filmed two miles south of where I’d ever need to go. I also have a new apartment, with a new roommate, whose name is Raymond Simons! He is a good chap, and tonight we made dinner (baked potato, jalapeno salad, and [homemade] fried chicken). I also have a nice room, which has a Star Wars(-ish) corner in it.

I’ve been meaning to put up that AT-AT for years, and the xkcd poster is a gift from Christine that I’ve put up about a year too late :$

I’m pretty happy with how everything’s going here though. Nothing has really happened yet, but I that’s just me being optimistic! I’m not too terrified or cocksure, so as long as I keep a relatively level head everything should be fine (unless the telescope providing my thesis data gets hit with some sort of other satellite).

I’m also trying this whole “be a healthy person” thing, which is virtually impossible if you have access to free, unlimited, semi-palatable dining hall food (I’m looking at you, HUDS), which partially involves becoming healthier. One thing I’ve done is started an account at lose it, the main perk of which seems to be its fantastic ability to know how many calories any food item is (although alcoholic beverages are a bit wonky). Got a goal there, and once I hit it, I will finally figure out how much food my body needs to maintain a steady weight. (Incidentally, The Hacker’s Diet is a very good website for general weight monitoring, and has a very interesting approach to the whole ideal of weight loss).

This all ties into my absence on Fitocracy, of course: (if you’re not a member and you want to be, let me know and I’ll try to send you an invite!). In college I basically worked out when Charles suggested it. This is all well and good when Charles is your roommate, but Charles is on a different coast than me now, so I need to figure out what I have to do and get my schedule.

So now for the request! Readers, how do I figure out what workout is best for me? I know it all depends on your goals, so but to quote Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, “I want to look good naked.” Not exactly, but wouldn’t it nice to actually have some muscle definition in places other than my thumbs?

Anyway, if you have any advice on how one would actually set up a work-out routine and figure out what sort of schedule/exercises should be part of it, please let me know! I’m starting with some yoga tomorrow morning, and who knows what’ll happen after that!

Kinda boring, sorry guys

snap, crackle, pop

I’m getting better at digging into the routine of life. Getting to sleep so that I can wake up and get to work so that I can get home and make dinner and relax and get to sleep. I’m doing it all my way, of course (an overabundance of green tea and honey, throw some guitar practice in there, and a token amount of procrastination every night so that I don’t feel like a total machine), but nonetheless, the grind is starting to hit.

I think this might be part of “growing up”, but it definitely has its downsides, and thumbing through years-old posts on this blog reminds of precisely what they are. A desperate searching for who you really are, what you value, and how you want to approach life leads to really interesting thoughts and ideas, and practically forces you to open your mind and explore a little bit. But on the other hand, sitting down and deciding who you are, what you value, and how you want to approach life – well, this makes it infinitely easier to get on with life, and start getting things done! Upon a little bit of reflection, I think I’m hitting this second phase here, where I think I have a good sense of what I want, what I don’t want, what I like, et cetera. But what I don’t like is that it’s disincentivizing my exploratory fervor. Even if quieting my adventurous mind allows me to get more things done and live a more stable, comfortable life, I don’t know if I really want that.

At any rate, I’m really glad I’m taking a year off. If just one week of a not-even 9-to-5 job (more like 11-to-5:30-without-a-lunchbreak, self-imposed) is enough to get me worried that I’m falling into a quieting rhythm, then maybe I’ll have lots of pent-up energy to release once the fall hits and I’m “free”.

We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’m really thrilled that I’m actually learning how to cook – it really doesn’t seem that hard, once you commit to being experimentful and fearless about the endeavour. I’m sure I’m making lots of mistakes, but I wasn’t going to be able to really appreciate the “right” way of doing anything until I’d struggled with the wrong way on my own first!

That’s pretty unrelated, so I’ll end with a video:

 

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