Ali: Learning How to Cook for Yourself

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For my junior year at BU, I decided to move into an apartment in South Campus. For the first time in my college career, I have my own room, my own bathroom, and my own kitchen. I also don’t have a dining plan. 

I spent a lot of nights eating cereal and instant oatmeal for dinner early on, and while that’s fine sometimes, it’s no way to live. Managing cooking for myself was a big transition from relying on the dining hall, so I’m here to share my knowledge with you. These are my top five tips for navigating cooking on your own for the first time!

1) Start practicing early

I cooked with my mom as often as I could while I was at home this past summer. This helped me learn a lot of basic skills, like knowing when meat is cooked through and how to chop veggies without losing a finger. It also allowed me to try out some new recipes while I still had a sous chef to help out.

2) Collect as many recipes as you can

I asked my mom for a copy of all the recipes she has that I like. I have a recipe app (not sponsored) that I use to keep track of them, but you could go old school and keep a recipe book too. I went on Pinterest and searched for easy recipes I thought sounded good. I asked my friends who already lived in apartments what they liked to cook for themselves. The more recipes you have that you want to try, the more fun cooking is and the less it feels like a chore.

3) Share cooking duties with your roommates

Why cook two separate meals when you don’t have to? Coordinate dinner plans with your roommates! Having each person make one or two meals a week cuts down on how much cooking you do individually. You can also try some new recipes in the process! And when all else fails, you can always opt to share the delivery fee on some takeout.

4) Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers

You may be tempted to only make enough food for one meal when you cook, but if you make an extra portion, you can put it in the fridge for later! I bought some single-portion storage containers, so when I’m done with dinner I can pack up the rest for lunches and dinners over the next few days. This spreads out how often you have to cook, and can be helpful if you don’t have a lot of time but need some food. You can also freeze leftovers — I like to make bigger batches of homemade spaghetti sauce and soups so I can reheat them later!

5) Stock up on frozen foods

One of the most important things you learn in college is to know your limitations. Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or desire to cook for yourself, but what do you do if you don’t have any leftovers in the fridge? Enter frozen foods. There are three essentials I keep my freezer stocked with: Trader Joe’s frozen entrees (my personal favorites are Chana Masala and Butter Chicken), chicken nuggets, and Bagel Bites.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you won’t become Gordon Ramsay overnight! It’s okay to make food that tastes bad or sets off the smoke alarms every once in a while. Be proud of your creations and you’ll be a master chef in no time.

Ali: Five Ways to Practice Sustainability at BU

With climate change looming large in the public’s mind, many people are making the switch to more sustainable practices to make a difference in the environmental impact they have. But what can you do as a college student to increase your sustainability? Here are six easy ways to practice sustainability at BU.

  • Buy pre-owned clothing and donate your unwanted items

There are a ton of fantastic thrift stores in Boston – go to them! If you want to be close to campus, Buffalo Exchange in Allston (180 Harvard Ave) is a great place to find nice clothes to update your wardrobe. The Garment District in Cambridge (200 Broadway) sells a variety of vintage clothing, as well as their infamous pile of clothing you pay for by weight, rather than item. If you’re planning to declutter your wardrobe this semester, consider donating your items (that are in good shape) to a local charity or thrift store. Goodwill in west campus (965 Commonwealth Ave) takes donations and is a short walk from central campus. Buffalo Exchange also buys used clothing for cash or trade. 

  • Invest in a reusable water bottle

Single-use plastic is one of the most common things that ends up in landfills, but it is also one of the easiest things to replace! Invest in a reusable water bottle to carry around throughout the day. Brands like Nalgene, HydroFlask, and Camelbak are popular choices, and you can find many options in most department stores. Consider buying an insulated bottle to keep your water cold all day! BU has a ton of water bottle filling stations throughout campus, so you can stay hydrated all day without using single-use plastic. Thirsty while you’re in your room? Get a brita pitcher to leave in your fridge for when you need it.

  • Turn off the lights when you leave your room, and unplug your chargers when not in use

One of the easiest ways to be sustainable while you’re in college is to unplug your appliances when not in use. According to Sustainability@BU, 10% of the energy used in the average American household can be attributed to items that are constantly plugged in. Not only does this waste money (assuming you’re paying for your own utilities), it’s also a big waste of electricity. Unplug things like phone chargers and lamps when not in use, or get a power strip with an on/off switch that you can turn off when not in use.

  • Take shorter, cooler showers

An easy way to save on water waste is to take shorter, cooler showers. While taking a long, hot shower may be tempting on a cold day, it can have a huge impact on the environment. According to the United States Geological Survey, showers can use 2-5 gallons of water per minute on average. By cutting your shower down by even a few minutes, you can make a big dent in your water usage. Taking cooler showers not only saves electricity, but it’s also better for your hair and skin than scalding hot water.

  • Buy reusable bags for shopping

As of December 2018, retailers in Boston are no longer permitted to distribute single-use plastic bags with handles. Bags must be recyclable, compostable, or reusable, cutting down on single-use plastic use throughout the city. However, paper and compostable bags now cost 5 cents per bag, which can add up if you find yourself shopping often. Some stores, like the aforementioned Buffalo Exchange, do not give out bags at all, and instead rely on patrons to bring their own. Buy a few reusable bags (you can get them for as little as 99 cents) and bring them with you on shopping trips. Not only are you saving money, but you’re saving the planet too!

Ali: Some thoughts on long-distance best friends, FaceTime, and family dinners

My best friend and I have been best friends for 11 years. From ages eight to 18, I saw my best friend at least once a week.

Think about that. I’m only 19, so I’ve spent more than half my life being best friends with the same person – Val. We wrote a contract in elementary school proclaiming that we had to be best friends forever and the contract would never be void, no matter what (then we threw it under her bed – it might still be there now).

In elementary school we spent lunch together every day and had playdates on the weekends – to this day, her home phone number is one of the five or six phone numbers I have memorized, purely from the amount of times I dialed it before we got cell phones. I’ve gone on vacation with her family, and she’s come on vacation with mine. Our families hold joint “family dinners”, where her parents and my parents and her and I can all get together on a Saturday night and have dinner and play board games because we really are one big family: we’re practically sisters.

My best friend is a year older than I am (she’ll turn 21 in March, and I’ll turn 20 in May), so she graduated high school a year earlier than me. It wasn’t that bad, though – she goes to college 45 minutes from our hometown and comes home every weekend. I saw her all the time throughout my senior year. 

Then I graduated high school.

And left for college.

And moved 700 miles away from home.

I think you can see where this is going.

See, when we were in high school, Val and I weren’t constantly texting each other. If something important was going on, sure, but otherwise we didn’t text a lot. We didn’t mind it, because we saw each other all the time. But when we knew I was leaving home (leaving the entire state, and leaving the Midwest, no less), we said we would call each other every weekend to catch up.

We didn’t.

We talked once a month, maybe twice. We texted sporadically throughout the week. At first, this really freaked me out. I made new friends in college and they made me happy, but I was so afraid to go home and find out that my best friend wasn’t my best friend anymore. What if we didn’t gel like we used to? What if we didn’t get along anymore? What if she found new friends who went to school with her and were always around to go to Target or get coffee together when I was 700 miles away?

Everyone else I knew who had friends back home talked to them constantly. They texted every hour and talked every weekend and planned trips to visit each other. I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I should have known better. 

When I went home for Thanksgiving break, our families held a joint Thanksgiving dinner. I got to tell them all about how great Boston was, and how much fun I was having. But I also got to tell her just how much I missed her. And she missed me too, which was such a relief. She missed me too. We were still best friends.

The next few weeks before winter break flew by, and then I was home for over a month. And we were hanging out on weekends again, just like we used to. We were having movie nights and getting lunch and going shopping together, just like nothing was different.

During my spring semester, we still only talked once or twice a month. But our phone calls started getting longer, sitting and doing homework while we chatted or eating dinner “together”. We would talk for an hour and a half at least.

When I went home for summer break, we went to a concert together, and it didn’t feel like old times anymore. It felt special, because we were together for the first time in months. The next week, we went to the beach, and it wasn’t the same. We swam for a little bit longer, soaked up the sun and talked about school for a little bit longer.

We planned a road trip to Toronto together, a five-hour drive both ways and a shared hotel room where we spent 72 straight hours together. When we had to leave, we wished we had booked a longer trip and stayed for the whole week. We weren’t bored of spending time together because there was always something new to talk about.

What I realized through all of this was that it didn’t matter that we didn’t text every day, or FaceTime once a week. What mattered was that I sent her a postcard from the MFA, and she sent me one back from Detroit, and that when I got my nose pierced I called her that night because I couldn’t wait to show her. She sent me pictures of my dog when she went to my house to have family dinners, because me being gone didn’t mean Saturday family dinners were over. 

I stopped comparing our friendship to other long-distance best friends and started focusing on the little things. Our families are having a joint Thanksgiving again this year, and I might come stay the night in her fancy college apartment while I’m home for winter break. We’re planning another summer road trip. She might even come to Boston and visit, if she ever gets over her fear of flying. We still do all the things we used to do together, but they mean so much more now because we can’t do them every weekend. We hug each other a little tighter and a little longer now. 

If you’re worried about losing your friends when you move away from them to go to college, don’t be. You’ll find ways to connect, even when you don’t talk like you used to. The ways you communicate and keep up with each other might not seem conventional, but don’t sweat it, because no one knows your friendship better than you. My biggest fear when I left home was that I would lose my best friend. What I could have never imagined was that our friendship would grow even stronger, 700 miles apart.

Ali: 10 Boston Neighborhoods and Plazas to Explore this Fall

It’s a terrible feeling, knowing that in a few short months Boston will become the cold, frigid image of a New England winter. It makes outdoor exploring and walking around miserable, and sometimes almost impossible. But throughout September, October, and even parts of November, Boston weather hits a sweet spot of temperature where it’s nice enough to be outside without being too cold or too hot. During these months, I love to take little outings on the weekend with friends to wander around different neighborhoods and areas of Boston. We can go shopping, get food, and maybe even catch a movie. But where should you go? What’s there to do? And how do you get there? Here are some neighborhoods I love to go to, the shops I visit, and the way I get there.

Union Square

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Union Square in Somerville is great for dining and shopping with friends on a weekend afternoon. Check out Ricky’s Flower Market and get some cute plants for your dorm, find some unique vintage pieces at Memory Hole Vintage, and get ice cream from Gracie’s Ice Cream (I recommend the Ube ice cream).

Take the 47 bus towards Central Square 9 stops from Park Drive @ Mountfort St to Green St @ Magazine St. Transfer to the 91 bus towards Sullivan and get off at Somerville Ave @ Prospect Ave (10 stops), which drops you right down the street from Union Square.

SoWa Open Market

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Located in the South End, the SoWa Open Market is a market that features art, food, and shopping every Sunday from 10am-4pm, May-October. There are multiple food trucks, art stands, and live music and lawn games! Admission to the market is free to all and a great place to explore with friends!

Take the Green Line inbound to Copley, then walk about 20 minutes to 530 Harrison Ave.

Central Square

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Located in Cambridge, Central Square is home to a bunch of fun restaurants for you and your friends! Take your vegetarian friends to Veggie Galaxy for a classic diner with a veggie twist, then to Toscanini’s for dessert. If you’re looking for something to do, head to the MIT Museum to check out their exhibits on science, art, technology, photography and more (admission is only $4 for students!), walk through the Graffiti Alley, or browse the stacks at Cheapo Records.

Take the Green Line inbound to Park Street, then transfer to the Red Line towards Alewife and get off at Central.

Coolidge Corner

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Coolidge Corner is a great place to shop, eat, and have some fun! Get sushi at Genki Ya or crepes at The Paris Creperie, browse the stacks at Brookline Booksmith, and catch a midnight movie at the Coolidge Corner Theatre! The Coolidge Corner Theatre runs different series like Science on Screen, where they bring in local professors to give a talk after a showing, and Coolidge After Midnight, where they do midnight showings of movies like The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as a Halloween movie marathon in October.

Take the Green Line C outbound towards Cleveland Circle from St. Mary’s Street (in South Campus) and get off at Coolidge Corner.

Harvard Square

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Harvard Square is a great place to eat with friends and spend an evening exploring. Grab some cereal milk ice cream from Milk Bar or a pastry from Flour Bakery and Café, or catch a movie at the Brattle theatre! Harvard Square also has a lot of great places to go shopping (or window shopping).

Take the Green Line inbound to Park Street, then transfer to the Red Line towards Alewife and get off at Harvard.

Davis Square

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Somerville’s Davis Square is home to many cute restaurants and stores! Grab some reimagined comfort food from Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar, or grab some pizza and try out candlepin bowling with friends at Flatbread Company inside Sacco’s Bowl Heaven (lane rental is $30/hour, so split the cost and bring your own team!). If you’re looking to spruce up your room (or find a unique birthday gift for a friend), check out Magpie, which has trinkets and art from local and regional artists. Davis Square is also home to Buffalo Exchange, a popular thrift store.

Take the Green Line inbound to Park Street and transfer to the Red Line. Take the Red Line towards Alewife and get off at Davis.

North End

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Known as a mecca for Italian food and cafes in Boston, the North End is also the heart of the historic Freedom trail. Indulge in your touristy side and visit the Paul Revere house, then get a cannoli from Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street. If you’re willing to wait, get in line at Regina Pizzeria, touted as Boston’s original pizzeria.

Take the Green Line inbound to Copley, then transfer to a Green Line train towards Lechmere. Get off at Haymarket.

Newbury Street

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Newbury Street is chock full of fun cafes and shops to peruse, like MUJI, a Japanese store featuring stationary, clothing, and household goods. Take a seat at Trident Booksellers and Café and enjoy a coffee and some lunch before browsing the stacks. If you’re into Harry Potter, check out The Fairy Shoppe, a small (like, really small) book and trinket shop specializing in magical and mythical items, as well as a large amount of Harry Potter merchandise.

Take the Green Line inbound to Hynes Convention Center. Or, walk East on Commonwealth Avenue, which becomes Granby Street. Turn right onto Charlesgate, then continue on to Newbury Street. 

Downtown Crossing

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Downtown Crossing is a great place to go if you’re looking to go shopping. Located close to multiple T stations, Downtown crossing is home to stores like Primark, Macy’s, Old Navy, and more. Street Performers often set up in the streets and play to crowds as they walk by. Downtown Crossing is also within walking distance of Chinatown and the North End, which offer great places to eat after a long day of shopping.

Take the Green Line inbound and get off at Park Street.

Seaport

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Boston’s Seaport is home to a myriad of restaurants, shops, and destinations, including museums like the Boston Children’s Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art. It also houses The Current, a space that holds pop-up establishments throughout the year. Check out the Glossier (a mainly online skincare and makeup brand) pop up from now through October 4th, 11am-7pm.

Take the Green Line inbound to Park Street and transfer to the Red Line. Take the Red Line towards Ashmont or Braintree and get off at South Station. Transfer to the bus terminal and take the Silver Line 1, 1/2, 3, or 4 to World Trade Center.

There are a ton of fun places around the city to explore and experience, so long as you’re willing to go out and find them. So load up your Charlie Card, lace up your walking shoes and get out there!

Ali: A love letter to Warren Towers

This is my love letter to Warren Towers.

I never thought I would write a love letter to the large, slightly smelly, always crowded dorm on Comm Ave. One of the most nerve-wrecking parts of my freshman year was moving into a new environment for the first time. For most new students, it’s your first time living away from home and being on your own, and this was my exact situation. While I was excited to be out on my own and starting a new adventure at BU, the one thing I wasn’t excited about was living in Warren Towers my freshman year. I had heard of the misery of living without air conditioning and sharing a bathroom with an entire floor and figured it would be the one downside to my freshman year.

But this is a love letter, right? Let’s talk about why I love Warren Towers.

First off, your dorm is a blank canvas of a room. If you’re anything like me, your bedroom at home is an amalgamation of childhood memorabilia, school supplies, and a lifetimes worth of clutter. When I moved into my dorm room, I was able to design it exactly the way I wanted. I put up string lights and posters that I wanted, I bought a new bedspread and sheets, I even bought a matching throw blanket. It looked infinitely more put together than my bedroom at home ever has. But that’s not specific to Warren Towers, right? You can design a room anywhere.

Having the dining hall in your building is also a huge plus. I can text my friends at any hour and someone is always there, ready to sit and eat with me or sit and study with me. I’ve met people in the dining hall just to watch old episodes of Catfish for hours on end. Having it right there makes it a hub for meeting (and making) new friends when you first get on campus. Plus, when it gets cold and you don’t feel like putting on all your snow gear just to get dinner, the dining hall is right there. Even better, every night after the dining hall closes, Warren Towers Late Nite Café opens. At Late Nite, you can use your dining points to get anything from a smoothie to mozzarella sticks. It’s perfect for a late night snack while you study, or a quick break while you’re hanging out with your friends on the weekend.

One of the first things I heard about living in Warren Towers is that it’s great for making friends. At first, this seemed like a lofty claim. How does living in the same building with a bunch of other people automatically help you make friends? After living through it, though, I understand. Living in Warren means you can walk to your friend’s room at 10:00am in your pajamas, just to say “Hi!”. In Warren, you can sit in the common room for hours on end together without having to worry about walking home after. You can have impromptu movie nights and not even worry about putting on a jacket to leave the building. With your friends so close, it’s easy to forge strong relationships quickly because it’s so easy to hang out with one another.

There’s nothing that can mimic the camaraderie of living in a giant freshman dorm together during your first year in college. So sure, air conditioning and a private bathroom are nice, but I wouldn’t trade the friendships I’ve made in Warren for anything.