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B1G 2021: Penn State Potluck #2 - Let’s Move on to Dessert

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Talking Twin Tier traditions and Penn State volleyball's waning dominance: grab a few off the cookie table and let's get to it.

Are the glory days over for PSU?
@pennstateVBALL

I’m a bit out of practice with this, so let’s just jump right in to this. You all are here for the cookie tables anyway.

The Food: Load ‘Em Up

I had never heard of cookie tables prior to grad school in upstate New York. Cookie tables aren’t a thing there either, but I had a friend from western PA, who, in planning her wedding, was super excited about the cookie table. It turns out, this is a massively necessary part of a Pittsburgh wedding, and I have to say, it sounds like a lovely tradition.

The origins of the cookie table are murky, with several immigrant communities claiming the honor of inventing the tradition. In reality, it’s easy to see how a community-based celebration like a wedding gave rise to this, though its staying power has proved impressive. As the name implies, the cookie table is a table laden with cookies (revelatory, I know.) Traditionally, and often still, the cookies are the product of the bride and groom’s relatives, many of whom have sacred, family-protected cookie recipes that only come out for cookie tables. While no one is mad if there’s a good ol’ chocolate chip cookie here, no one is bringing a package of Oreos either - this is the time to bring your best shot, cookie-wise, and creative, labor-intensive cookies often make an appearance. Great-Aunt Ruth was born for this moment, and she’s gonna shine.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

How many cookies should there be on a cookie table? If you’re going for the minimum, 3-4 cookies per guest will work, however, it’s not unheard of for there to be at least a dozen cookies per guest. There is some debate as to whether the cookies are an appetizer or a dessert, so if you find yourself in the presence of a cookie table, try to gauge the crowd behavior.

kaitlynpowellphotography.com

As you might have guessed, there is a surfeit of cookies at the end of the night, so it’s customary for couples to provide to-go bags or boxes so you can enjoy the cookies the rest of the weekend.

So, writers:

  1. Cake or cookies? If you can only have one or the other forevermore, which one is it?
  2. Did you do anything unusual food-wise at your wedding, or have you been to a wedding that was notable for its food? Have you ever witnessed a food disaster at a wedding?
  3. Taking home leftovers from a wedding: is this a thing we should start doing? Discuss.

MNW: Cake, as long as one of those styles of cake is ice cream cake. Give me ice cream cake forever, though the concept of the cookie table intrigues me.

It snowed 25” on my April wedding day. That was notable enough.

Now that the “late-night snack” has become A Thing at weddings, the various offerings of pizza are usually noteworthy—whether they’re made in-house, like ours were, or shipped in from some local pizza place like one in Eau Claire (s/o Pizza Del Re) was.

Leftovers or to-go foods should ABSOLUTELY be part of modern weddings—I’m thinking here of the buffet for the Koreans at Lane’s wedding in Gilmore Girls—but we were very specifically told at our wedding that it had something to do with liability why neither we nor anyone else could take any of the food to-go. I might start making the wife bring her big purse and packing a tupperware or two in there, because way too much amazing food gets wasted.

BRT: I’ve crafted a difficult question here. For special occasions, cake is king, but the versatility of cookies really recommends them. So... I think I have to go with cookies.

One of the good things about being a “mature bride,” as I will be known if I ever get married at this point, is that I’ve been to enough weddings to have all of the ideas I could ever want. The most noteworthy, and one that I will not be emulating, was when I attended the wedding of a family friend in San Francisco. The bride is Chinese, and the wedding feast was impressive - many, many courses, and featuring things like shark fin soup. It was an incredible experience. Another wedding in which I was a bridesmaid took place on Nantucket, and featured fresh lobster for the rehearsal dinner and a whole roasted pig (on a spit and everything) for the wedding dinner. Actually, mature bride or not, I’ll never approach this level of wedding food.

My cousin got married in Portland a few years ago and had Voodoo Donuts and a mobile artisanal s’more cart. I sort of loved this for being the most perfect encapsulation of a “Millennial-in-Portland wedding.”

On the less-awesome side, at my brother’s wedding, I found a dental rubber band in some sauce on my plate. Not great.

I’m in favor of taking home leftovers! Food waste is gross, so why not let people take a doggy bag? At the Chinese wedding mentioned above, people did just that.

Green Akers: Although I concur with my learned purple colleague on the virtues of ice cream cake, it’s a difficult needle to thread between impenetrably frozen brick and fully melted mess. Ergo, give me a cookie any day, because I’ve found with tragic frequency that cake is an easy thing to make into a dry slab of sponge that can’t be rescued by frosting. Also, in the context of something like a cookie table, why would you not simply fence its perimeter with frostings as well?

I don’t consider any of the food we’re planning on serving as being especially out there, but as our venue is a well-known German-themed hotel and restaurant, that’ll be what we’re doing. As to the food disaster issue…uhhmmm…let me get back to you after one we’re attending this summer, because based on what I’ve heard, I have CONCERNS (like, stashing some Poptarts in the car level of concern) but it wouldn’t be fair to draw that conclusion just yet.

Kind of...: (1) Cookies for me. [Of course, I’m sure there are “What counts as a cake?” arguments put forth by people who also wish to determine if a hot dog is a sandwich, so have at it in the comments if you so desire.] Even is ice cream cake counts, just give me a bowl of ice cream, I’ll add some cookies, and still prefer that.

(2) I’ve been to a wedding with a cheesecake bar, and a different wedding with a special vodka table thing. That’s as notable as it gets for me. No food disasters, thankfully.

(3) I think MNW pretty much covered it on the leftovers aspect.

Stew:

  1. Cookies because, as noted by others, the total versatility. I get chocolate chip, sugar, ginger snaps, brownie cookies.
  2. We did pie for our rehearsal dinner, based mostly on my older brother’s wedding where he had homemade pies instead of cake. My mom, grandma, and all my aunts made a few dozen pies: apple, cherry, lemon meringue, rhubarb, black raspberry.
  3. Absolutely. Why waste food? That being said, the majority of wedding food is mediocre at best.

Beez: (1) Cake is the superior dessert overall, but cookies are far more readily available, easily accessible, and capable of functioning as a small or reasonable amount of dessert. If I only get one for the rest of my life, I’m going cookies, which I consume probably like 30-50 days per year rather than cake, which gets maybe 7-10 days per year.
(2) We are planning to have Peruvian food served at our rehearsal dinner if we can just...find a location with a kitchen that will fit us all. The fiance’s best friend’s mother is a Peruvian chef/caterer in Northern Virginia and her food is amaaaaaaazing. Also planning for a hybrid cake made of both cupcakes and regular cake, plus macarons in abundance and maybe some fancy-ass dipped strawberries. Gonna be delicious.
(3) Take home leftovers should absolutely be a thing. I’m paying for the food at my wedding, and of course I want all the leftovers I can handle that won’t go bad before I can eat them all/get sick of them. But since we won’t be able to possibly eat every leftover, it’d be great if guests could take some home!

WSR: 1) If I can only have one forever, give me cookies. More options means more fun. And I love the idea of a cookie table.

2) So we had pizza delivered at around 11:30 at my reception. It was gone in about 15 minutes, so I feel like that might be repeated at my next wedding reception. I’m also tempted to say that there needs to be a taco bar, because who doesn’t love tacos?

3) Yes. It should be customary to send home leftovers to guests from everything, and weddings should be towards the top of the list. Have great food, share it with your family and friends as much as possible.

The Sport: The Trophy Table is Laden

When it comes to college volleyball, it’s hard to think of a more blueblood program than Penn State. Not only is the level of sustained, remarkably consistent success significant, but the longevity is amazing in its own right - literal decades of being one of the top teams in the country.

Russ Rose has been the head coach at Penn State since time immemorial 1979, and in that time has led the Nittany Lions to seven National Championships, which is, you know, pretty good. They’ve appeared in every NCAA tournament ever, the only team in the country able to claim that (the tourney started in 1981).

Head coach Russ Rose: He may look like just another Boomer, but happily, he’s developed more constructive hobbies than sharing conspiracy theories on Facebook.
gopsusports.com

Now for the bad news (ok, it’s not actually that bad, because Penn State is still good) - Penn State’s last National Championship came in 2014. That’s not eons ago, but it is a while ago in sports terms. Since 2014, PSU has only made it to the Final Four one time, and finished last season ranked #12 in the country.

What happened? Well first of all, a dose of perspective. Being in the top 10-15 teams in the country isn’t exactly a failure - PSU is still a really great program, with excellent fan support, and they win far more matches than they lose. So this isn’t a “death of PSU volleyball” piece or anything. But it does seem clear that the strengthening of Big Ten volleyball programs (namely, Minnesota, with the 2012 hiring of Hugh McCutcheon; Wisconsin, who made it to the NCAA Final last season; Ohio State’s exciting new coaching hire last season, and Illinois and Purdue’s continuing good-to-greatness) as well as the addition of another volleyball blueblood in Nebraska in 2011 made a dent in PSU’s dominance. They’re still a great team, but they are no longer THE great team.

So, does Rose have more tricks up his sleeve to be able to more consistently come out on the right side of matchups against Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois? Penn State fans certainly hope so.

Also, this is my regularly scheduled plea to check out Big Ten volleyball this fall. It’s incredible, and the overall quality is something to behold. I know we all like football, but this is actually our fall sport, as a conference.

Writers:

  1. What does the future hold for Penn State volleyball? Does Russ Rose have another NC in him?
  2. What is the greatest volleyball match you’ve ever watched?
  3. Team USA volleyball — will they win the gold? (14 of the 23 players on the team are from the Big Ten!)

MNW: Does Rose have a promising assistant or someone who can take the reins? Otherwise it looks like a slight decline—just to be a fringe Final Four team, which shouldn’t seem like a ton being poured out but is probably enough to cause some consternation. The level of parity in the Big Ten—and I have to think Minnesota’s Hugh McCutcheon and the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers have played a role here, the 2012 hiring and 2011 entry to the Big Ten, respectively—has increased just enough to make that road a little tougher.

Greatest volleyball match ever, for me, is the consolation semifinals in the 2019 Eagan, MN, Co-Ed Sand Volleyball League Tournament. Team Spiked Punched—there was a team name fuck-up—had not won a set all year and stormed back from a set down to win its first match of the year. I don’t think a single rally lasted more than 10 touches. It was truly awful volleyball, and we did not care.

THEY WILL! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

BRT: My gut says that Rose doesn’t have another NC in him, though I’d be foolish to completely count him out. I see PSU kind of hovering around 3-5th in the Big Ten for the foreseeable future, and perhaps cracking into the Final Four sometimes.

I was lucky enough to be present at the 2017 National Semifinal in Kansas City when Nebraska took down #1 Penn State in five sets to advance to the Final (which they won, yay!) It was just a jewel of a match, collegiate volleyball at its finest. It was in Kansas City, so it was a heavily Husker crowd, which made the win all the sweeter, but the whole match was played at such a high level. I’ve also watched Nebraska win two NCs live, and that’s pretty damn sweet too.

Let’s say yes! It doesn’t look like the US is poised to cover itself in a lot of golden glory, but I’ll always hope for the best from the volleyball team. Especially with three Huskers on the roster!

Green Akers: Ah, yes. Volleyball. I know this one. Nah but truthfully, all I really know about the collegiate sport is our conference friggin dominates, so I can’t provide serious insight here. Now, if you want to talk strategies for all-hustle, creakily-inflexible-but-inflatable-tube-man-armed lowest-level-coed-league middle blockers, holler at me.

Kind of...: I’m boycotting all VB questions that are posed by a Nebraska fan as John Cook left UW, went to Nebraska, and won their first natty by beating Wisconsin in the title match.

Okay, only kidding. The football “rivalry” has helped me get over that.

(1) PSU is done winning nattys under Rose. PSU VB reminds me of Iowa wrestling a few years into Jim Zalesky’s tenure. They can be competitive in their sleep, but the conference has levelled up.

(2) It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest, but UW’s Elite Eight win over Florida this past April [30-28, 18-25, 25-22, 18-25, 25-22] was pretty wrenching to watch. Both teams are on the shortlist of “best program without a national championship” and it was clear that Florida was clicking. As the score makes clear, Florida outplayed UW most of the match, it was just a matter of the Badgers winning most of the big points. [This just makes me more excited that A) VB will be back to being a fall sport this year, and B) UW is returning almost everybody, including Rettke! Can’t wait for BRT’s regular coverage at OTE in a few months.]

(3) Maybe? It’s hard to take them against the field, but they have as good a chance as anybody. It would appear the betting markets have them tied for 3rd favorite (with Serbia) behind China and Italy. I’m not buying Italy, but am still wary of Brazil (though perhaps because I don’t follow closely enough and am going off of history).

Beez: I know Wisconsin and the Big Ten are very good at volleyball, but that’s where my knowledge stops. I do love Olympic volleyball, both the in-the-gym kind and the exhausting-looking and blatant sex-selling that is Olympic beach volleyball. Basically what curling is to the Winter Olympics, beach volleyball (and to a lesser extent the regular kind) are to the Summer Olympics IMO.

WSR: 1) I’m not sure if Rose has another natty in him. Sooner or later everyone loses their fastball. And instead of hiring a really good assistant, I think the secret is to actually hire the USA volleyball coach when your legend retires and he takes your program to another level. That’s definitely the way to go.

2) I was at the 2018 National Championship match in Minneapolis because I thought it was going to be a coronation for the Gophers. Instead, we lost to Oregon in the regional semis and I got to watch an incredible showdown between Stanford and Nebraska.

3) OF COURSE! USA! USA! USA!

Poll

Will Penn State volleyball ever win another national championship?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Yes - within five years
    (27 votes)
  • 34%
    Yes - with whoever the coach is after Russ Rose
    (25 votes)
  • 28%
    No - the glory days are over
    (21 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now