When I was a little kid, I wouldn't eat. Never finished meals, protested against second helpings, hid leftovers in the fridge. So when I went to high school, my growth spurt hit me like a two-ton truck - I don't remember when the appetite started, but I do remember standing in the cafeteria line for my 5th lunch one day and suddenly realizing wow, I need a lot of calories now.

14-year-old Mel was hungry all the time. Unfortunately, this coincided with living at a school with a cafeteria that was... well, when you get your scrambled eggs in cubes, and you can pick them up and squeeze the water out of them, then put them on the soggy eggy-water pile and watch them suck it up again like squelchy pale yellow sponges, you can see why we were not particularly thrilled. (In their defense, it was a public school, and they did have to feed a horde of hungry teenagers 3 meals a day, so the budget for quality only went so far.)

There was a grocery store across the street - Eagle - that you could sign out to walk to. Eagle had such useful things as 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew that were occasionally on sale, and 10-packs of Kit Kat bars, and on one memorable night I broke a multi-day fast by consuming 2 of each (yes, this was a bad idea), then proceeded to go up on stage for improv theatre night. I had been so absorbed in working that I hadn't noticed that I hadn't eaten since Wednesday until a teacher kicked me out of the machine shop with the order to go find some food. This is around the same time when I discovered that large amounts of caffeine made for fascinating heart rate test results in gym class.

Eagle also had discounted just-about-to-be-expired food, so I would sometimes go and get a whole roast chicken with sides for an after-school snack, or N frozen pizzas when there was an N pizzas for X dollars special going on. But cheapest of all was the instant ramen. One package made a snack. A couple packages made a meal. And one day, they were on sale for ten cents each.

I walked back to my room with bags and bags and bags of ramen - a range of flavors, for variety. Chicken, beef, shrimp, creamy chicken, spicy chicken... boy, was I going to eat well! Better than cafeteria food, for sure - and so I decided I was just going to eat my way through all my ramen, because that week's cafeteria menu was particularly suboptimal.

The first day went well. The second and third days were pretty good. The fourth day I went back across the street for canned soup and and old roast chicken and started adding them into bowls of noodles. Then I started adding frozen vegetables, then eggs.

By the start of the second week, I was trying to drain and then pan-fry ramen in the microwave (this does not work very well). Fettucini Alfredo Ramen was a failure (cheese + milk + ramen) but Ramen Primavera (cream of mushroom + frozen veggies + ramen) was not all that bad. Pad Thai ramen was... an interesting attempt. I learned about different water/noodle ratios, textures at different boiling times, how seasoning packets tasted when combined.

By the 12th day, when I found myself mixing ramen with instant pudding and cinnamon from the cafeteria to make "rice pudding ramen," I knew it was time to go back to the cafeteria. (Rice pudding ramen, by the way, is awful.) At this point, though, I had managed to feed my teenage self for almost 2 weeks on a budget of less than $7.

"Wow," my 14-year-old self thought. "That was really cheap! I could eat like that for a long time!"

I did not cook instant ramen again for several years.