The house system is one of the coolest non-academic things about Caltech (by popular opinion, at least), but I do not live in one of them. I live in an apartment off-campus, and have been since the beginning of the summer. Last year, I lived in Caltech off-campus housing, and I realized that it was a huge improvement over living in a dorm. When it came time to find housing for this school year, I realized I didn’t want to be locked into the Caltech housing system, especially since there was a good chance I’d be in one of the non-"house" dorms. After a frustrating and then suddenly-successful apartment hunt, I found an option that was pretty much ideal. Now I live, in common tech parlance, off-off (campus), which indicates that I live neither in a dorm nor in Caltech-owned off-campus housing.
My apartment is directly north of campus. It’s about a block away from the north edge, including buildings where I have classes. I think that even though I’m "off-campus," I’m much closer to my classes than most people are living in a dorm at larger schools. The dorms are about a ten-minute walk away, less if I’m feeling peppy or riding a bike or longboard. There are a lot of other techers on the same street; there are at least two other apartment complexes that are owned by Caltech and which are full of off-campus sudents. I see a lot of people I know walking to and from campus. There’s even a guy I don’t know who I see riding a unicycle. He’s very good.
One of the best things about living off-campus is being off-board. I think that in general, the food Caltech Dining Services makes is pretty good, especially compared to what you get at other campuses. I really enjoy cooking as a hobby and, on special occasions, as an art. I say on special occasions only because as much as I like cooking, I also realize that cooking legitimately takes a lot of time (cleaning also takes a fair bit). When I have a lot of spare time, it’s not a big deal, but during term, cooking can seem like a major time sink.
This is why it is important to be good at making things efficiently. This does not mean just eating ramen all the time. That is only acceptable some of the time, and when I do that, I usually dress up the noodles with some vegetables and an egg or two, which goes a long way towards making the meal seem more legitimate. There are other good strategies, most of which involve making food ahead of time and storing it up so that it takes less time to prepare later. One of my favorite foods/recipes to this end is making calzones. I made a batch last week, in fact.
The idea behind the calzones is much like buying frozen food from the grocery store, only much healthier and custom-fitted to my tastes. I used fresh pizza dough from Fresh and Easy (a grocery store very convenient to campus) and a combination of frozen and fresh vegetables and cheese for the filling. I cooked frozen bell peppers and onions, fresh tomatoes, and kalamata olives then mixed them with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and a little bit of goat cheese. Then I wrapped the filling with pizza dough into little semi-circular shapes. I froze three of them and baked the fourth for dinner that night. It was delicious.
The calzones are convenient not only because I now have to do a bare minimum of cooking to acquire a filling meal’s worth of tasty hot food, they’re also pretty portable. As much as I’m glad to be out of a dorm, it’s still important to socialize. I must admit I’m not a big fan of eating alone. The calzones are the perfect thing to bring to campus. I can cook them in the oven right before house dinner starts then eat with the rest of my friends.