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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

ABOUT MEN
Paella chef feels heat of tradition

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Columnist

Mrs. G. never eats her own paella.

She commands its creation, from chopping the garlic heads and choosing the clams to mixing the rice and the shrimp and all the other goodies in a flame-heated pan.

When it's finished and everyone greedily scoops out steaming helpings, she watches from the kitchen.

She hadn't realized this habit until I pointed it out.

"I feel like the ghosts of my ancestors are standing over me passing judgment," she said. "It makes me nervous."

If you've never felt it, the weight of tradition is a powerful thing. It's a burden and a joy and a touchstone in hectic times.

Traditions make families what they are, a guiding hand from the past. But we make our own, too, adding to the mix.

My family has a slew of traditions. Few of them are blessed though, with anything more than nostalgia.

Where we eat on our wedding anniversary the same table at Roy's (children included). What we read on Christmas Eve the same dog-eared edition of "The Polar Express." What we eat for breakfast on a birthday the favorite sugar-laden cereal of your youth. (Cap'N Crunch works for me.)

But goofiness grinds to a halt in the presence of my family's unrivaled king of traditions: Making a paella.

Nothing in my household cranks up the troops like this traditional Spanish meal.

Nothing touches more roots for my daughters, who watch like little video cameras, recording moments they will remember the rest of their lives.

And nothing Mrs. G. cooks focuses her devotion like a paella made with a family recipe passed on by word of mouth in the age of e-mail and cooked in a 100-year-old pan brought from Spain.

Whether planned or last minute, like the one that blossomed around me recently, everyone accepts without question that extra work will be needed.

This time her uncle he who has the family's other old-world paella pan was at our home to watch.

The mood was upbeat, the arguments good-natured a paella must have arguments before it is finished and the family well-represented.

Who needs ghosts when Uncle Vinnie is there to personally wag a finger?

As the family's senior statesman, his words of praise or criticism carry the weight of generations, even though he confessed on this visit that he actually uses a microwave to prepare his broth.

Growing up in Hawai'i, I didn't have access to multiple generations for my family's collective wisdom. In marriage, though, I connected to something bigger than me call it tradition by osmosis.

And when I do my part lighting and stoking the fire to the proper temperature I know there are more than ghosts judging my effort.

Mrs. G. and the next generation of paella chefs.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.