For this week’s Blinks, we asked our staffers to dig out the tiny traditions that have taken shape in their own day to day lives. The little pieces of repetition or habit that hold greater meaning. From paper submissions to salads, and late emails to libraries, here are the results:
I am pretty bad at frying eggs. I blame this incompetency on several distinct factors. One is that the pan that I use to cook them is not a nonstick pan—it’s difficult to properly cook an egg if your pan refuses to release the ovum in question once it’s done. Another detrimental factor is that I don’t buy good eggs. Ina Garten, my idol, says that one should always buy locally sourced eggs. The supermarket next to my building sells blue styrofoam cartons with six eggs each, which are clearly just packages of a dozen eggs cut in half. Each half carton is a dollar, so I usually buy those. I don’t think they are locally sourced.
I understand that these problems, if they are real problems, might be solved with minimal effort—grease the pan, buy better eggs. Nonetheless, my culinary inadequacy persists. And however bad I am at frying eggs—they come out all broken up sometimes, and I always stain my pan—making them has become a small and pleasant ritual.
A good part is when the egg snaps in the oil—the saxophonist Illinois Jacquet said that a good brass section should crackle like that. It’s also nice to poke the middle of a fried egg with a corner of my toast and watch the yellow come out. I like to pretend I’m at one of those restaurants in Nolita that have bright lighting so that you can take pictures of the avocado toast, even though I’m sitting on my unmade bed in the dark, with the plate on my lap. Thus concludes this ode to my shitty little eggs.
As a Paper Submission Runner, I love finding challenging new routes. Two minutes away from the deadline is where I shine. It’s the best part of the job. Over the span of my career, I’ve done Butler to Hamilton, Butler to Fayerweather, Butler to Broadway. I’ve run Carman to Claremont and Carman to Hamilton. More recently, I’ve gone from McBain to Philosophy and McBain to Schermerhorn.
Each route poses its own challenges. You have to learn the terrain in order make sure you can keep outdoing your personal bests. To become a Red Bull sponsored Paper Submission Runner like me, you have to learn the tricks of the routes you run. Do you wait for the elevator or take the stairs? Do you go up Low Steps or the steps by Kent? Each route has different answers.
How do I do it, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Training. I run every day, at 6:00 a.m. sharp. I start at Butler and try to touch every corner of campus as quickly as I can. It’s the only way to make sure I’m on top of my game. The next time a paper is stuck in the printers I won’t be worried, because regardless of where the TA’s submission box is, I know the run.
Door to door, Hewitt Dining Hall is a two-minute-and-49-second stroll from my abode in the Barnard Quad. Running, I can make it there in under one minute. This convenience, coupled with the $6,368 a year “platinum” meal plan to which I am bound as a Barnard first-year, has compelled me to eat the majority of my meals this year at Hewitt. In spite of its lousy reputation (and, admittedly, sporadically lousy offerings), the dining hall has come to occupy a very special place in my heart. I know it’s uncool, but I’ll say it: I love Hewitt. There. No shame. I am a proud patron. During hectic days, Hewitt brings me comfort and consistency—from its tasteless yellow-and-blue pastel decor to its tasteless steamed “vegetables of the day.” Finding a seat in Ferris or John Jay is a miracle—finding a seat in Hewitt is an expectation. And no matter how uninspiring the “main courses” may appear, I know that I can always count on Hewitt’s hefty self-serve salad bar to satisfy my alimentary needs. It is there—between a toaster and trays of dessert—that a very particular, personal tradition of mine has developed.
At least once a day, I eat (at least one) variation of my Signature Hewitt Salad™. Now famous among my friends, Lyric’s Signature Hewitt Salad™ has become a cornerstone of my life at Barnard. Like an orchestra, the salad is composed of many complementary elements, of which the perfect balance guarantees a harmonious final product. As such, a Lyric’s Signature Hewitt Salad™ can take up to 20 minutes for even an expert like myself to curate. Inevitably, when eating with friends, I arrive at the table once their plates are nearly empty. But—with salad in my hand and on my mind—I don’t care.
“It’s like a religious experience,” my friend Emily says when I ask how she would describe Lyric’s Signature Hewitt Salad™. “Towering,” my roommate, Al, responds. Add tangy, creamy, healthy, crunchy, incidentally vegan, filling, and practically perfect in every way, and I would agree with their descriptions. In the spirit of tradition (and in spite of my selfish impulse to keep my salad a secret), I believe the world deserves to know my recipe. As the saying goes, “If you love something, tell everybody else how to make it too.” I hope you have enjoyed this backstory, but most of all, I hope you enjoy Lyric’s Signature Hewitt Salad™ as much as I do.
Lyric’s Signature Hewitt Salad™ Recipe
Prep time: up to 20 minutes of decision-making
- Fill a large bowl with Hewitt’s leafy green of the day (ideally romaine and/or kale).
- Top with copious amounts of whatever else in the salad bar looks interesting—including some of the pre-made salads—until you become anxious that the “towering” salad will topple, or until toppings actually do start to roll off. Toppings may include any or all of the following: cherry tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots, cucumbers, black beans, chickpeas, peas, grilled vegetables, sliced black olives, beets, quinoa, sweet potato, bulgur wheat, water chestnuts, and more!
- Top with an embarrassingly large amount of hummus (approx. 3 to 5 tablespoons) and balsamic vinegar (not vinaigrette, approx. 2 to 4 tablespoons)
- Once seated, enjoy the challenge of tossing the salad without all of the ingredients ending up on the table!
I always wonder about when, exactly, breakfast carts start packing up their leftover muffins and turning into lunchtime halal carts or when the flashing marquees of the latter quiet as they shutter for the night.
These little everyday transitions are something I rarely notice, except for at four o’clock in the morning.
Every Monday night—or Tuesday predawn, really—after production night at The Eye, I get some work done in Butler if I’m lucky, then I make the trek from Butler back to McBain. It’s a cold, quiet time of day. There’s the stray blaring siren and one or two homeless folks perched on sidewalk benches, bulging plastic bags gathered around them like armor against the cold. Other than that, all is silent.
It was probably on one of these sleepy, solitary walks that I first started noticing the breakfast cart on 114th Street and Broadway. It began with a brief glance as I was hurrying to get out of the snow, maybe a polite smile to the vendor on a more leisurely stroll back. Week after week, as I passed, the guy manning the cart would be laying out rows of everything from bagels to glazed donuts and corn muffins and stacking up those ubiquitous blue-and-white coffee cups. If he was done setting up early (or if I was leaving particularly late), he’d be leaning against the aluminum cart, coffee cup in hand, and we’d exchange a quick hello.
It became a familiar weekly rhythm: walking down the deserted street, basking in the rare pleasure of an empty NYC street, a smile and a half-nod to the breakfast cart guy. Some nights, if I’m really feeling it, I’ll even stop to grab a pastry for the next morning—a much-needed remedy after a long night in Butler.
My 7:20 a.m. Monday alarm feels very gray. Gray, like morning fog that replaces the sunrise, like a muffled ring that my earplugs have turned into an echo. (Deep sleep is not a skill of mine—a faint alarm poses little threat to the mandatory attendance at my 8:10 a.m. seminar.) By 7:58 a.m. I have left my dorm and embark on a quest for coffee. The campus is still, eerily silent, and the glow of a night’s rain lingers on glossy pebbles. My hair's still wet from showering as I walk in the opposite direction of my class, passing puzzled classmates. And then I reach Butler Library, where I swipe in solely because of my pursuit of coffee. Except for the occasional moment of desperation, I don’t end up in Butler for very much else besides this morning ritual. I come to Butler for the coffee, a substance upon which I regrettably depend, and one that I sometimes suspect is a placebo. Nonetheless, getting through an 8:10 a.m. seminar, the bastard child of the 8:40 a.m. lecture, participation grade and all, necessitates a steady stream of coffee running through my bloodstream. And so, my weekly tradition: (Nearly) every Monday morning, at its 8 a.m. opening, I am Blue Java Coffee Bar’s first customer. I order a small black coffee with the taller lid, because with the flat lids I always seems to spill coffee on myself. I take a sip, ensure that the placebo is working—I can already feel my eyes tightening—and set off toward Hamilton, where I will take the elevator up just one floor, because no one else is awake yet.
During midterms and finals, the pressure to be constantly working hovers over your shoulder like an angry Chinese grandmother. It is our school’s primary preoccupation, and for several weeks, the bemoaning of it is our principle topic of conversation.
And so I have the twice-a-semester tradition of avoiding this pressure, in fact of avoiding everything to do with Columbia, and going down to Hampton Chutney, the small Indian restaurant/chai and coffee shop. While it is certainly cozy and homey, and the chai is delicious, I go there mostly because I can be fairly certain that there will be no one from Columbia there. Opening up Dante on Hampton Chutney’s earthy tables, I know that when I stop to take a break there will not be another person sitting across from me reading the same book, silently reminding me that the school is continuing to work while I take a walk.
Surrounded by the Upper West Side residents who live around 82nd Street and Broadway, the peer pressure to work no longer factors into my decision-making. Away from this nagging presence, I am able to remember that working is a choice. Away from stress culture’s grimy mitts, I am able to remember that I decided to take five classes not just because everyone else was, but because I wanted to challenge myself.
I am happy to admit that even here, in Hampton Chutney’s warm, strongly spiced embrace, I am stressed. But at least here I am stressed because I want to be.
I have the world’s most annoying internal clock. Unless severely sleep-deprived (here’s looking at you, midterms), my eyes begin to flutter open at 8:30 a.m. every day. I slowly shrug off my layers of blue blankets and ease my way out of bed.
On Saturdays, I give myself a small break. I turn off the alarm and crawl back into the comfort of bed for an hour or so, until my mind is awake enough to be bored. As quietly as I can, so as not to wake my roommate, I get ready for the day. Down the four flights of stairs into the lobby I go, smile at the security guard, and push my way into the day.
After grabbing something to eat, I assess my options. Saturday is a study day for me, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unremarkable. I send out a few texts. “Walk?”
I’m always grateful for these responses. Sometimes they come early in the morning, and we take off into Riverside or meander down to Trader Joe’s. Sometimes they break me out of my work flow, reminding me that sitting too long can and will make your back hurt. It’s hard to give up those much-sought-after Ref Room seats, but for the sake of my sanity, I’ll find a new study space later.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Morningside Heights, and I love this campus. In spite of its sometimes dark and crowded architecture, weaving between the buildings gives me a sense of stability and comfort. But I came to New York to avoid routine.
There’s a fine line between tradition and routine. Overdo tradition, and it becomes routine. Try to force a tradition, and it becomes mandatory. So we switch up our walks. We dip down new streets, our heads raised to note the intricate façades and disparate patterns of the buildings we pass by. We recount our week, an easier feat when a little farther from campus. At some point, constrained either by time or by aching legs, we turn back. Return to comfort. New York becomes an expanded campus on these walks, a place to learn and connect, and to envision the paths we may walk down next.
There are so many beautiful places to study at Columbia, so I’m often confused by the grumblings from students who complain about overcrowding in Butler. Yes, Butler is a beautiful, multi-level library, and it offers gargantuan cupcakes in its café, but what about the East Asian Library in Kent, or the Fine Arts Library in Avery? Not to mention the Business and Economics Library, where you can bring in whatever food you want, be as loud as you want, and never feel insecure about the noise you’re making when you crunch down on a Dorito.
I’ve made it a tradition to study in as many different nooks of the campus as I can, if only to catch a different vibe from the architecture, and from the diversity of students that each library attracts. I spend a lot of time in Brownie’s Café in the basement of Avery, which has killer sandwiches and a bunch of food prepped and ready to go. I usually grab a table there, and once I’m done with my turkey and Swiss, I’ll head upstairs to the main level of the Fine Arts Library.
Unfortunately this is the one tradition that I’ve had to abandon for a little while, at least until I feel like I can show my face in Avery again. A few weeks ago, as I diligently worked on my Progression Two, I took an extra large gulp of my coffee, and it went down the wrong pipe. With one startlingly loud and violent cough, I spit it out across the antique wooden table. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed, since they were so wrapped up in their studies, but if they did, they kindly stifled their laughter long enough for me to wipe up the coffee with my sweatshirt and make a beeline for the bathroom to blot the giant wet stains on my jeans.
I am writing to you because I am sending in my tiny tradition-based Blink late. I want to apologize for how tardy this piece of writing is; it was never my intention to disregard the deadline.
These past two weeks required multiple all-nighters in a row, which completely shattered me. Between all of my midterm paper deadlines and running The Eye, it just got so overwhelming.
This is by no means an attempt at excusing the tardiness of this Blink; I understand and assume all of the consequences of handing in something so late. I am extremely disappointed in myself for failing to communicate these difficulties earlier and failing to meet the requirements of this assignment. I am even more disappointed in the fact that I had to end a fantastic series of Blinks on such a low note.
At this point, the only thing I can do is learn from this experience. I'm more cognizant now that communication really is key in times like these; not even in terms of deadlines and extensions, but more on a I'm-feeling-very-overwhelmed level. I'm also very aware of how necessary it is to prepare a lot more in advance for stressful periods like these so that I can cushion the anticipated blow instead of letting it hit me at full strength.
This is a long piece, but I just wanted to make it clear for you that I don't take this lateness lightly. I’m sorry.