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Exam 'Wasteland' proves

With less than a month left in the semester, papers demand to be written, projects call out to be completed and exams loom on the horizon. The libraries are filled to capacity most afternoons and evenings, and computer labs are seeing an increase in traffic. People all over Grounds are feeling the pressures that come with crunch time.

In the past, I have been strangely immune to the panic attacks that strike so many University students in late April and early May.

This year, however, I have developed a wicked case of "end of the semester anxiety." Rather than handle the stress by buckling down and doing my work (a method that many of my calmer friends employ), I've developed my own way of coping: I cook.

Prior to April, I never even had used the oven in my kitchen except for one time, when I needed to heat up a french bread pizza and the microwave was engaged otherwise.

Cooking never held much allure for me. Part of my problem, no doubt, was the fact that I was a horrible chef. Once when I tried to make spaghetti for my family, I somehow managed to cause a small flood in our kitchen. On another occasion, I tried to make brownies in a plastic container and filled our house with noxious fumes. We had to open all the windows and leave the house for several hours.

Needless to say, I was not encouraged to pursue the culinary arts, and that suited me just fine. What did I care about baking? It's not like my future was dependent upon my ability to make meatloaf or bake a cake. I was perfectly content to let someone else do the cooking.

A week ago, as I gazed out the window of the Alderman stacks debating whether I should read T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" for the 50th time, I suddenly felt an inexplicable urge to make cookies. Huge, chewy, chocolate chip cookies. The kind of cookies that would make me forget that April is the cruelest month.

Two hours later I found myself covered in flour and wondering why my cookies more closely resembled rocks than the golden brown treats the box had promised I would create. Dismayed and disheartened, I resolved to try again until I baked the perfect cookie. This time, I wouldn't simply add an egg and some water to a powder, either. I would make the batter myself from scratch. I would create something edible using only raw ingredients and my wits. Attempting to reach my goal, I toiled in my tiny kitchen all night.

The next morning, when I went to meet with my professor about an upcoming paper, I didn't have a topic to discuss with him, but I did bring a dozen amazingly delicious chocolate and peanut butter chip cookies.

My lack of progress on my paper didn't seem to bother either of us so long as I had succeeded in discovering the perfect chocolate to peanut butter chip ratio.

In each of my classes that day professors and TAs continually reminded me of fast-approaching due dates for a plethora of assignments. Each time someone would mention another task that I needed to get moving on, my chest would tighten and my pulse quicken. I could tell by the looks on the faces of my classmates that I wasn't the only one feeling the physical effects of this news.

But a funny thing would happen to me when I would start to freak out about all the things I needed to accomplish in a short period of time. When I'd start to stress, my mind would flash to the night before when I'd been lost in a sea of sugar and vanilla, not knowing what to do until somehow I taught myself to cook and had turned the chaos into cuisine.

I'd turned adversity into triumph. This thought calmed me completely. Cooking de-stressed me.

Over the course of the next few days, I dabbled in my studies and mainly concentrated on my cooking. I spent hours in the kitchen learning how to manipulate egg whites and make meringue, cut cherry tomatoes so that they looked like roses and use a wok. I quickly graduated from cookies and brownies to triple layer cheesecake and Baked Alaska. "I think I'm some king of cooking prodigy," I told my roommate one afternoon as I pulled a pie crust from the oven.

Jen gave me a weird look, "Yeah, you're going to give Julia Child a real run for her money."

"You know I just might," I told her. "Do you think that Julia could make soufflé when she was my age?"

"Probably. You know what she couldn't do, though? She probably couldn't have discussed Dostoevsky's use of character doubles. By the way Kate, can you?"

I knew what she was saying. I guess I had gotten caught up in the excitement of learning to cook and had overlooked my academic obligations for a while. It's just that the thought of penning 20 pages on aesthetic theory gave me hives, and making quiche for dinner calmed me down. I felt a control in the kitchen that I didn't feel in the classroom.

It's been a few days since I've been out of the kitchen, and I am getting a lot more work done. I must say, though, that I really miss the feeling of certainty that I experienced when baking. My roommates, while happy that I'm not going to fail out of school this semester, are missing the results of my flirtation with the culinary arts. I figure if this whole higher education thing doesn't work out I always can fall back on my cooking skills. After all, in the end what's more important? My ability to wax poetical on the impact of the Romantics on modern literature or my ability to whip up Hazelnut Au Chocolat?


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