With two mixing bowls, a cookie sheet, one cup of sugar, flour and two sticks of butter, Medill sophomore and Ayers/CCI Social Chair Amanda Gajdosik treats herself and dorm companions to an assortment of fresh baked cookies, cupcakes, pastries, breads, cakes and more.
“They call me the mom of the dorm,” Gajdosik says. “As lame as that may sound, it is nice.”
After years of baking for family, friends and herself, this passionate baker began publishing a food blog during her freshman year, titled The Dormestic Goddess. The website illustrates what college students can cook using the kitchen utilities available in most dormitories. For Northwestern students, Gajdosik features local restaurants, markets and food events in the Evanston and Chicago areas. Additionally, the blog includes an up-to-date account of all the treats Gajdosik makes, along with a list of diverse recipes students can recreate in their dorms.
Recently, this zealous baker chronicled her preparations for the Fifth Annual Amateur Haunted Cupcake Competition hosted by Pastry Chicago, in which she participated Saturday at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center. Gajdosik says she didn’t stress much about the competition, but she was looking forward to learning new techniques, exploring the sizeable Chicago "food Mecca," and learning other ways to use her best friend—butter.
“It is a well-directed use of her creativity,” says Gajdosik's long-time family friend Shawn Pearson, who has spent many hours in the kitchen alongside Gajdosik and encouraged her insistently.
Gajdosik attributes Pearson as the inspiration for her baking obsession. She contributes to the Dormestic Goddess blog with relentless support of family, friends and Medill faculty.
“She feels so passionately about this,” Pearson says. “I merely mentioned to her how well her natural gifts and passions could lend themselves to each other.”
The desire to bake has always run deep for this Julia Child wannabe. At a young age, Gajdosik admired her grandmother and her artful skills in the kitchen, which built her keen appreciation for an assortment of food and pastries and served as the foundation for a future of baking.
“I remember standing on a stool with an apron that was too big for me as I tried to help her make pancakes,” Gajdosik says. “She always kept my entire family well-fed.”
As baking became a more routine part of life, inspiration emanated from a variety of outlets including cooking legends and Food Network personalities such as Rachel Ray and Paula Deen, plus online food blogs like How Sweet It Is (HowSweetEats), Bakergirl, The Pioneer Woman, Bakingdom and Baked Bree.
“If you open my bookmark tab, you would find over a dozen of food blogs I check daily,” Gajdosik says.
Although she is always willing to share, Gajdosik confesses that she ultimately bakes for herself. For her, baking provides an outlet from the stress of schoolwork and other commitments.
"The week following Wildcat Welcome Week I remember I was stressed, homesick and generally miserable,” Gajdosik says. “All I wanted to do was bake.”
After a nostalgic phone call back home, family members made the trip to Northwestern, buying two mixing bowls, a cookie sheet and butter along the way, which Gajdosik later used that afternoon to make warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies.
Today, fellow residents of Ayers/CCI can be greeted home after a long day of classes to the delicious wafting scents of salted caramel pretzel cheesecake, salted caramel corn and thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies. She recently baked goodies for RC Big Bite (a residential college version of Big Bite Night).
“Everybody said we had the best stuff, and it all got devoured pretty quickly,” says Sean Cabaniss, Ayers/CCI President. “On the fourth floor you can always tell when she’s baking because you can smell it.”
The ardent Gajdosik says that being able to convince students to eat something that tastes good and isn’t Easy Mac or dining hall food is a heart warming accomplishment, which is why she fills Ayers/CCI with delicious scents of baked treats at least once or twice a week. Cabaniss says that although Gajdosik is “generally kind of sweet,” she does have a bit of a sour side that makes her even more fun to be around.
“Despite all the mom stuff, she does still have kind of a more sarcastic side,” Cabaniss says. “She’ll baby you, but at the same time, she'll tell you that you’re being a baby.”
For the fall season, the warming aroma of pumpkin spice snicker doodles wafts through Ayers/CCI’s hallways. Gajdosik says fall is all about warmth and spices—why not share the feeling?
“By baking she finds herself comforted and her food then can serve to add comfort to others as she shares it,” Pearson says.
The fervent baker plans to continue baking her delicious treats throughout the school year and work towards improving her baking talents despite the constraints of a dorm kitchen.
“Cooking is like anything: If you want to do it, you will find a way to make it happen,” Gajdosik says. “Food is my life.”