Creme de la Creme
10 eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
21/4 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 brown sugar, packed
Exams finished, room evacuated and Cambridge left behind, these ingredients taught me a valuable lesson this past week.
The sophomore year is a trying one: one in which directed, challenging and often unpleasant work replaces the merely exploratory first-year learning; one in which the novelty of spending six hours per day in the dining hall wears off; one in which the Boston weather becomes just another variable; and one in which you turn 20.
Harvard can be an unpleasant place, wearing even the most durable students down. But at the end of day, we know why we keep coming back for more. The toil of inexplicably long hours spent in the library produces an education, and in most cases a better person. The smiling faces of the men and women who will commence on Thursday, filled with accomplishment, are testimony enough that a College diploma is worth some suffering.
Each member of the class of 1997 has endured the whole Harvard experience and emerged victorious; but for all of the Weber, Blake, Darwin, Virgil, Hegel &c., they also endured a rewardless hardship.
Harvard students ingest rich and delectable written materials and learn to appreciate the wisdom that comes from them, but the Harvard Dining Services food is just another input, without spirit or meaning. The importance of Shakespeare is clear after a Harvard education, but the importance of the flesh, bones and leaves that enter our bodies garners perilously little attention.
The House dining hall is an integral part of the Harvard experience, but due to the friendships that are formed and the ideas that are discussed, not the art of eating. Over the chicken of General Wong (whomever he may be) or a slab of fried cusk (whatever that may be), Harvard students have plenty of writers and scientists to discuss, but meals are often structured around class sections, rehearsals or publication meetings. The result is that dinner, for example (which must fall between 5:00 and 7:15), becomes more of a chore than a welcome interruption where the business of the hour is appreciating aromas of fresh spices, distinguishing subtle flavors from one another, discussing tender meats and succulent fruit and generally reveling in the joy of mastication and subsequent digestion.
In a land where there is no shortage of mediocre foodstuffs--endless quantities of pasty pasta, fatty szechuan beef, (un) savory baked tofu, etc., appreciating what goes in can be a difficult task. Too often we shove meals down our throats as nothing more than a means to an end. (We die if we do not eat, therefore...).
This is the wrong attitude with which to leave Harvard. We spend countless hours pouring over unknowns which will remain unknowns--whether or not there is free will, when the sun will have used up all of its hydrogen, yada, yada, yada--while we spend offensively little time on the one sure thing in life: good food. An excellent soft-shell crab on a bed of arugula, after all, just is.
During reading period and exams this spring, I began to realize that Harvard was causing me to take food for granted. So for peace of mind I would take a beautiful crunchy Granny Smith apple out to the bank of the Charles every day, sit down on a patch of grass, close my eyes, try to recreate my tabula rasa and slowly concentrate on each and every bite until even the core was gone. For the brief moments that the juice stored in the white center would be forced from the apple's pores and into my mouth, the outline of clarity was mine. Dissatisfied with only the shell of an answer, but convinced that wisdom was located somewhere between a Granny Smith and a baked trout, I decided to treat myself to four days away from the city, where my only goal was to appreciate flavor. I cooked and I ate, savoring every bite and giving surety the attention it deserves.
Roast chicken, covered in the juice from a squeezed lemon, generously garnished with tarragon, thyme, salt, pepper and a touch of crushed garlic, roasted potatoes, Bass Ale; linguine with pesto; leafy Romaine lettuce, green, red, yellow peppers, carrots, tomatoes exploding with color and taste covered in a homemade balsamic vinaigrette; steak with inserted garlic cloves, New Jersey corn on the cob, fried and sauteed mushrooms and onions, baked potatoes--dinner for Chrissakes!
And for dessert, the finished product of the several ingredients with which I began. With its ever so thin, yet crisp, caramelized sugar top, this dessert taught me what every Harvard student should know before Commencement: the appreciation of good food is crucial to one's well-being. Ninety-eight percent of Harvard students participate in the house system. Thus, the cultivated minds that leave Harvard are often accompanied by jaded palates, palates that need nourishment and attention lest they become permanently ruined.
I treated myself this week because I wanted to know something for sure with two years left to go at the College. And now I do: sometimes it is important to take time out of one's schedule to eat, to cook and to genuinely enjoy the activity that keeps us alive.
So for Nietzsche's and all the others' sakes, make a cre*me bru*le*e soon (paying attention not to burn the sprinkled brown and granulated sugar), and begin the revitalization process that your Harvard body craves and deserves. You still won't know whether God exists, but you will be sure that you have done right.
Daniel M. Suleiman is associate editorial chair of The Crimson.