Tag: College

Feeling Old AF: College Then & Now

College is frequently on my mind, as we live near a campus. There are actually a lot of colleges in St. Paul – St. Paul College, St. Kate’s, St. Thomas, Macalester, Hamline, Concordia, part of the U of MN campus . . .I know I’m missing more. A trio of college student DJ’s actually moved in next door and there’s a frat house behind us in the alley. We joke that all of the activity keeps us young.

A lot has changed since I was in college in the early 2000’s. Technology advanced and the world feels smaller. Here are some things that I would imagine would make college different today:

  • Smartphones and knowing how to find your friends

Smartphones make it easier to find your friends. Near the end of my college years, our phones could text (companies often charged by the text sent and received). Internet access was so slow and expensive, no one had it.

We hung whiteboards on our doors and wrote where we were headed – e.g. the cafeteria or library. It wasn’t unusual to call people’s actual dorm landlines. A lot of times you would simply wander over to your friend’s room or dorm without any notification.

In college student fashion, we flexed our abilities to articulate thoughts and make sense of the world. We constantly argued and debated. But, not online. In person. This was before Reddit and Facebook. Sometimes we debated issues for hours. If your friend made an outrageous claim, you couldn’t just fact check them on your smart phone. You had to wait until you got to a computer.

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A Cathartic Bloody Mary & Cheese Frenchies: My First Wartburg Homecoming

This weekend we heeded the “U-Rah-Rah Rah” cries of Wartburg College’s homecoming.

When Jake and I drove down Bremer Avenue in Waverly, Iowa I percolated with emotion, for this was my first visit back, since graduating in 2007. My stomach felt strange when I thought about how my mom was alive the last time I was on campus, cheering for me as I reached for my diploma.

We met a friend I used to work with at the college’s Writing/Reading/Speaking Lab (WRSL) at Duo’s, a coffee shop built after graduation. Since we were the only two former consultants in attendance, we giggled about how we were the smallest WRSL reunion in history.

I think it’s safe to speak for the other WRSL consultants when I say that we loved our jobs helping students improve their paper and speeches. Many of us became good friends who worked together for years. I don’t believe any one hired as a consultant ever left before graduation. Once a WRSL’er, always a WRSL’er.

Although I majored in Public Relations, we never discussed social media. Wartburg joined the Facebook network in 2005 and no one seemed to foresee the role it would play in business marketing.

Only once it ever occurred to me to take a picture of food. I wrote my friend’s name Leo on a plate with condiments at Perkins. Our early flip phone cameras took horrible photos and most of us lacked the internet plans to share them.

Now, I juggle several social media platforms and find myself saying, “My how times have changed,” more often than I’d like.

I used to think homecoming activities were unbearably cheesy. I enjoyed some of the festivities like the variety show, but would hardly say I “bled orange” (our school color), as they would say. This weekend, seven years later, I experienced the true spirit of homecoming along with alumni of all ages. Signs everywhere said “Welcome back!” and I felt like I had returned home.

Our mission in Waverly was simple. Drink at Joe’s Knight Hawk Lounge and eat at the East Bremer Diner.

Oh Joe’s. We never got too well acquainted, did we? Joe’s Knight Hawk is the bar perched on the edge of campus where the harder-core partiers gravitated. If something crazy happened, it probably went down at Joe’s. Others simply went to Joe’s to eat chicken wings and dance the night away.

I appeared at Joe’s twice. I wasn’t much of a drinker and hardly a dancer, preferring the company of friends watching Scrubs or playing candy poker. Looking back, I do wish I spent more time at Joe’s, but hindsight’s 20/20.

Joe's

The first thing I noticed was that the bar and pole along the dance floor was gone. Considering the state of most of the students who hoisted themselves up to dance around the pole, I wasn’t surprised.

We ordered Bloody Marys which was fitting since I drank my first Bloody Mary here during my senior year. I remember watching the bartender in utter fascination as he added Worcestershire sauce and black pepper to my first, non-fruity cocktail which I liked at first taste.

The beverages were so cheap, we struggled to drink our $10 credit card minimum. So, we walked a mile down Bremer Avenue to the East Bremer Diner. The cold wind whipped across the Cedar River.

River watermarked

Waverly’s main street is vibrant and well-kept. I was happy to find that Dell’s Diner & Asian Garden Restaurant are still open.

main street watermarked

I’ve dreamed of returning to the East Bremer Diner for years. My family and I dined here after our first campus tour.

For lovers of the Diner, this is a beautiful sight.

Salad Dressings watermarked

For those who choose a side salad, the server will bring a big bowl of shredded lettuce and quad of homemade salad dressings in squirt bottles. There’s french, thousand island, ranch and creamy garlic. Use one, or mix and match them all.

My favorite has always been the creamy garlic. Your server will initially identify each dressing, but, in case you forget, the creamy garlic is pinker than the ranch and paler than the thousand island. I used to buy an occasional jar of this dressing for personal home enjoyment. My second favorite is the french, which I normally don’t like. The Diner’s is tangy without being too sweet.

This ritual of starting with a big bowl of shredded iceburg lettuce and squirt bottles of salad dressing an endearing gimmick we always looked forward to. I posted these salad photos on social media and received so much interaction, I’d say it brings back fond memories for many Wartburg students.

Diner Salad Collage

I ordered Cheese Frenchies for lunch. Frenchies are cubes of crispy-coated, fried grilled cheese made with American cheese (and sometimes mayonnaise) and the Diner’s the only place I’ve seen them.

Cheese Frenchies originated at the chain King’s Food Host in Nebraska, Omaha in the early 1960’s. They’ve since fallen out of style, though friends have also spotted them at Don & Millie’s in Omaha & Drake Diner in Des Moines.

Cheese Frenchies watermarked

Jake chose the Beef Submarine with onions and mushrooms. I giggled each time he repeated the entire word “submarine.”  This sandwich was massive and the bread tasted fresh.

Beef Sandwich watermarked

The Diner’s manager, also a Wartburg graduate, saw my tweet about the Diner and visited our table to personally greet us. He said that the menu is practically the same as it was seven years ago, minus a few of the less popular items. We gave him kudos for being so on top of the Diner’s social media while actively managing the restaurant during lunch rush.

Before we drove back to Mason City, I asked Jake to take a photo of me and the Wartburg sign. Funny how I was too nerdy to go to Joe’s Knight Hawk in college, yet too cool to pose by the sign.

Wartburg Sign watermarked

Former President Jack Ohle’s catchphrase referred to Wartburg College as a “tapestry” of which all of us students were the threads.

I’ll spare you the Wartburg song and peppy motto “Be Orange!”, but I will leave you with one final “U-Rah-Rah-Rah. Catharsis is best experienced with Bloody Mary’s and Cheese Frenchies.

What was your school’s catchphrase? And did you have a favorite college town restaurant?

For Better or For Worse: Most Memorable School Cafeteria Foods

Next month, I’ll return to Waverly, Iowa for the first time since my college graduation and it’s got me in a school [food] state of mind.

A Chowhound discussion about memorable school cafeteria food continues to pop-up and I never get tired of reading people’s memories. School cafeteria food is vividly burned into my memory and I can still taste and smell meals decades later.

It’s interesting to learn about the different iconic school cafeteria meals that exist even between states within the Midwest. Many of my Iowan friends fondly remember chili and cinnamon/caramel roll day and Crispitos, which I never saw in Minnesota. My college roommate grew up in a small town in Iowa and recalled the combination of “Pork shape on a bun” and butter sandwiches, which were spread with something that was definitely not butter. In fact, I don’t remember seeing pork served on lunch menus at my Minnesota schools during grade school.

These are the school cafeteria foods that are burned most clearly into my memory. Feel free to add yours in the comments section:

Elementary School (Diamond Path, Apple Valley, Minnesota)
Diamond Path became a “magnet school of international studies” in 2007. I have especially vivid memories learning about Frank Lloyd Wright in art class and making homemade pizza as part of a unit about Italy. As you can see in this photo, there’s a tiled pool in the entryway. During the year this pool was built, we all designed and painted our own clay tiles which I believe are still there.

Picnick

In 3rd grade, I was a picnic table. Where are those dunkers?

Memorable:

  • Turkey Gravy: This was the most popular lunch item. The meal was simply a clear gravy with cubes of turkey served over mashed potatoes, but even the teachers would forgo their sack lunches on Turkey Gravy Day.
  • Tony’s Pizza: Our lunch menus always specified that it was Tony’s Pizza. Of course, there were the big rectangles of cheese, sausage & pepperoni covered in pale cheese that never browned. The Mexican pizza (technically called a Fiestada) was extra special because it was octagon-shaped and covered with bright yellow cheese. Tony’s still produces Fiestadas but only sells them through distributors like Schwan’s by the case of 96! They’re listed under the “Sheeted-Pizza” category because how else do you produce pizzas shaped like octagons?
  • French Toast Sticks: I actually bought a box at the grocery store last year for giggles. Sure, I can make my own french toast now, but these still tasted good.
  • Flavored/Seasoned Rice: This is the only food that stands out as being especially unappealing. And if I remember correctly, the menu literally this “Flavored Rice” and flavored it was. With something nose-wrinkling salty and chicken-bouillonesque that also turned it bright yellow.

Middle-High School (Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, MN)

All of my former schools’ menus have changed to include more fresh vegetables and fruit. In fact, I am gawking at the current elementary school menu that lists fresh spinach salad and fiesta bean dip and the high school menu which offers kidney beans, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. These foods totally weren’t on our menus a decade ago. Times have changed! Italian dunkers are here to stay, though, I see no mention of that infamous elementary school turkey gravy.

Memorable:

  • Italian Dunkers: Italian Dunker Day was as popular as Turkey Gravy Day. Our cafeteria didn’t serve pizza, so this was the closet thing. Everyone left their sack lunches at home for hoagie halves spread with margarine and garlic powder, toasted with cheese and served with pizza sauce. My mom always complained that I reeked of garlic whenever I ate dunkers for lunch. And when I posed the topic of memorable school lunches on my Facebook pages, Minnesota friends mentioned Italian dunkers most frequently with favor, while Fargo friends mentioned them with loathing.
  • Salad Dressing: At Minnehaha, the cafeteria ladies would squirt the salad dressing onto our salads from big jugs with pump dispensers. Our choices were french or ranch, but all of the cool kids got both. Every once in a while when I’m at a salad bar, I’ll drizzle a sald with both and think of those giant salad dressing jugs.
  • Squishy Bagel Breaks: The cafeteria opened in the mornings and during breaks. The most popular snack among students were these squishy $1.25 bagels in which the cafeteria ladies would melt a slice of white or yellow American cheese for exactly 90-seconds in the microwave. The trendy thing to order was to dip a bagel with white cheese into cream cheese. I’ll recreate this snack about once every two years.
  • Weird Croutons: We always noticed our salad bar croutons were different the day after grilled cheese day. They transformed from their normal crunchy selves into cubes sandwiching a terribly chewy layer. Cutting leftover grilled cheese into croutons is a good idea in theory, but the fact that they were impossible chewy and kept at room temperature made us whisper.

College (Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa)
For a small liberal arts college, Wartburg’s Mensa (a.k.a. the caf) offered many choices. It wasn’t the wonderland of food that was the St. Olaf cafeteria, but good nonetheless. Our cafeteria meals were set at a single, all-you-can-eat price.

Our cafeteria featured several stations including the main hot food option, vegetarian, make your own sandwich and salad bars, grill & “International” dishes. You could sign-up on a hardcopy paper list located at the campus coffee shop and diner to transfer meals. I see the sign-ups are now online. Have I mentioned times have changed? The school also offered special, themed lunch buffets of which students could sign-up for $.50.

Towards our graduation, the cafeteria started providing more locally grown vegetables and vegetarian options. The staff also invited students to submit their favorite recipes which they would try to recreate and serve during meals.

Memorable:

  • BLT’s: Every once in a while, the main lunch line would feature hotel pans of toast, crispy bacon, lettuce, sliced tomato and mayo of course.
  •  Goulash: I was confused to find this was not Hungarian goulash, but ground beef and macaroni noodles mixed with a bland, slightly sweet tomato sauce. It never became a favorite, but was comfort food to the students who grew up eating it.
  • Inferno Wings: The Den was our on-campus diner that was open into the evening. I was obsessed with their Inferno Wings, a frozen product that the employees deep-fried to order. The wings were coated in a spicy batter, hense the name inferno. I’d squirrel a bag of these back to my dorm where I’d enjoy them with a Michelob Golden Light or Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss, beers that seemed fancy at the time.
  • Cool Cookies: The den also offered ice cream sandwiches made with homemade chocolate chip cookies and a variety of soft-serve ice cream flavors like chocolate-mint and cherry-almond.
  • Fish Fillet & Nachos: Whenever the cafeteria served fried fish fillets in the main hot lunch line, they were always accompanied by corn chips and cheese sauce. I always wondered what kind of pairing this was!
  • Wartburger Sandwich: I think these were Warburg’s version of a loose meat sandwich, but I avoided them due to the name.

What were your most memorable school cafeteria lunches? 

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