Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tradition (good stuff here)

I tend to like tradition. It's something that remains constant, something you can grasp on to. Change is necessary, though often not welcomed; not so for tradition, which is welcomed and comfortable. Change is the wooden stool you must adjust to, tradition is the old rocker.

An example that comes to mind is Facebook. Because it is such a young site, Facebook is constantly changing and evolving. During my time on Facebook, there have been two major times where it has completely rearranged the site and the way it functions. For about a week after the change, all that I heard from kids my age is how much they hate the new facebook. Groups arose on the site itself, requesting that Facebook revert to its old setup. While all this went on, I chuckle to myself. There was really nothing wrong with the new Facebook, it was more efficient than the old one, but people weren't comfortable with the operating style. Everyone had snuggled up and gotten cozy with the old version, but were thrust out of bed with the new one.

I didn't necessarily approve of the new Facebook at first, but I accepted it. Everything must change and evolve if we want to move forward, and I support that. Traditions don't keep us grounded, but rather let us relax before we've got to move on with our lives.

Recently, I've become aware of two traditions that I'm quite jealous of. Frankly, I wish that these traditions were my own. The first, involves family and suckling pig. My friend Maggie lived in a bunch of places before moving here in middle school. You can usually tell who the kids are that moved to a new district after elementary school. These are the kids with few friends who often separate themselves, or are separated from, and are seen as outcasts. Not Maggie. No dearth of friends there, and if you told me you didn't like her, I simply wouldn't understand.

She moved here from North Carolina, and I guess she made some good friends there, because each year, her whole family travels down to a friend's house in North Carolina for a cookout. We're not talkin burgers and dogs however. It's North Carolina and the men spend all day cooking a huge hog for supper. Good food good friends, what's better? This year she sent me a picture of a sandwich from the event. I think she was trying to make me jealous.

The second tradition involves a couple. Marta and Ben have only been going out for a few months, though they started this towards the beginning of the year. I met Ben when I started cross country in the beginning of the year. He was a too-cool-for-school, non-conformist type kid; the kind that "don't take shit from nobody" (most notably the school librarian). He wasn't like many kids though, ya know, like the ones that completely change their personality in front of the opposite sex, grownups, etc. I thought this unrelenting attitude would hinder him in maintaining a relationship, but then came Marta, and my theory was completely disproved. I never thought I would use the word compliment in this blog when referring to personalities as opposed to food, but Ben and Marta's personalities undoubtedly compliment each other.

Both of Marta's parents are from Poland, and from their strong cultural background comes great food. Every Sunday, Marta and Ben go to Marta's house and make crepes, using Marta's grandmother's recipe. They invite someone new each time to the "Marta and Ben experience," and I've been lucky enough to get the invite a few times. The first, I wanted to use my favorite recipe (Thomas Keller's version) for their crepes, but I had no idea that they had been using Marta's Grandmother's version, and I soon realized that Thomas Keller's got nothing on a Polish grandmother.

Marta and Ben have the crepe-making system down to an art. The way their personalities compliment each other is similar to the way they work in the kitchen. Each knows what they are doing and means business. All one wants to do is stand back and watch the performance, the interaction, the crepe acrobatics.

And of course, the end result is delicious. I find that Keller's crepes are heavier and richer, whereas these are light, and lend themselves completely to condiments (which is what crepes should do). Taste is not important however, it is the tradition that I admire, no, envy. I want a girlfriend, and every Sunday will be our omelet day, or pasta day, or even braised short-rib day.

This past week, my track coach attempted a motivating speech for the team. Her enthusiasm was there but the delivery wasn't. The speech was just a bunch of scattered thoughts that didn't really come together. She just jumped from point to point without culmination. I do that a lot with this blog, and I'm usually aware of it, but I don't mind. This isn't school and my writing doesn't need to be completely structured or focused. But with this post, I hope to tie everything together, because tradition is so universal. It's so applicable to every aspect of life. Ruhlman has received criticism for basing Ratio on French technique, but without French culinary tradition, cooking would be nowhere. Not dissimilar to how without strict military tradition, we may not be as safe as we are today. But now I appear to be contradicting myself, traditions aren't necessarily there just to "let us relax before we move on with our day." They allow us to move forward too.


cookingat11 said...

My teacher told us he went to one of those pig bakes once. Keep in mind he isn't a normal teacher. He is awesome. One time he brought venison steak for us. Most of the girls wouldn't touch it, so I ate most of it. He said at the pig bakes, they bury it in the ground and bake it. Some people "call" the ears, or trotters, or tail, or brain, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations on traditions and envy. I am glad someone else appreciates the theater of crepes. I have watched crepes and galettes being made on the streets of Paris by specialists. The craftsmen often are hybrids of cooks and bakers. The science of the batter, as Lebovitz has described on his blog ( is part science and part instinct. If you have ever seen the Fred Astaire dance routine from "Royal Wedding" with the hat rack, you have some appreciation for the crepe makers' dance with the "hot plate" and tools. Nutella and banana are great on regular batter, but buckwheat is a mushroom and cheese vehicle. Nontraditional fillings are another story, but you are praising the comforts of tradition and familiarity, not the excitement of change and surprise this time around.
Great essay, Nick. I think you tied it together pretty well, at least for this reader that is easily distracted by shiny objects.

Patel said...

Really good stuff...

Best Regards,
Make Friends, Make Money

c3 said...

Obviously, I'm in a picky mood today.

Complement = to complete.
Compliment = say nice things to. I'm guessing both the food and the personalities complete each other, instead of saying nice things to each other.

c3 said...

Lovely post. Really like the rambling tone that still tries to pull things together. I love the way you link food and life. Very poetic and apropos.

Kelley said...

I chose to move 17 hours away to go to college in North Carolina. It was hard being away from home... but the food traditions are wonderful! and immediately I attached to the culture!!

pig pickins are amazing!!! get yourself to NC soon and enjoy!

Arm70 said...

Darling Nick, I think you're just fabulous. If I was 20 years younger, I'd be your girlfriend, if you'd have me. ; )

Anonymous said...

some people have green thumbs and I'm envious...
others have the patience of saints and it makes me restless...
you, however, have not only the talent to dazzle in the culinary realm, but also the gift-of-gab that is perfectly unpretentious in what is so commonly a stuffy crowd.
thank you for enlightening those of us less skilled in the kitchen and encouraging us, if nothing else, to appreciate and relish taste and nostalgia -
there is much to be said about tradition and you hit the nail on the head today.
keep it up - you've got the world at your fingertips.
take care!

Jumper said...

I used to think the first President younger than me, I would hate. But I don't. Now I have a food-writing guru who is 16. Life is strange.

Tags said...

Who says youth is wasted on the young? You have a gift of (seemingly) effortless mastery of complex ideas a lot of very experienced adults can't wrap their minds around. Or a great ghostwriter ;-)>

You should read Pig Perfect by Peter Kaminsky. It ties a lot of pig traditions together and I know you'll like this book.

Dee said...

Master chef AND writer extraordinaire?
You have a bright future ahead of you.

Food in the Eyes of a Teen said...

beautifully said

michael, claudia and sierra said...

just took the time to read this one and loved it.

i think you may be the to cool for school guy - but you just don't know it - an admirable trait unto itself.

i look forward to watching you figure this whole life thing out. but why do i think that in the end, we will all be learning from you, nick...

you're an old soul in an exuberant 16 year old body. rock on, my friend... rock on.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nick,

Wow, first I'd just like to applaud you for being so passionate at a young age. I find it very inspiring the way you relate food back to life, and will continue to visit your wonderful blog. The only thing I'd like to mention is, and I hope you don't mind the criticism, that while French culinary traditions did in fact pave the foundations of modern Western gourmet, it is neither the ultimate nor epitome of cooking. To say so would be unfair to many nation's equally rich culinary traditions. I am so happy that you've learned to appreciate the value of truffles and confit. I can only wish you the best of luck in continuing to expand your horizons. Explore, and be curious!