baking, cooking, dessert, pizza, recipes


06.18.08 | Comment?

My mother decided it would be a fun idea to throw me a graduation party. This is kind of a big deal for my family, because we never throw parties. When my dad got his masters degree, we had a party, but my brother and I were sequestered in another room with a television and microwave teriyaki skewers. I think there was another party in there sometime. It’s not that we don’t have people over, but hosting organized parties has never been a common occurence.
So when my mom suggested a party, my first reaction was, “Really?” This was immediately followed by, “Ooh, think of all the food I can cook!” A few minutes later, I realized that I wouldn’t actually have any of my own friends to invite to this party—they’re all off beginning careers or their lives, not lazing around at home like some people. It would be a party of my parents’ friends and my grandparents’ friends. I’m friendly with all of those people, so it was fine by me, I just felt slightly pathetic that my college graduation party would closely resemble the opening scenes of “The Graduate.”
When people plan parties, they think of what color the tablecloth should be, and how to make sure it matches with the plates, cups, and plasticwear. They think about how to decorate the house—flowers, candles, potpourri—and how to clean it for company, like wiping off the fridge, removing the clutter, washing out the garbage can, to create the illusion of habitual immaculateness. Because trash cans are perpetually pristine.

Below: caramelized onion and fig pizza with goat cheese and prosciutto

I rather made my mom’s party planning a little more difficult. When I planned this party, I only thought about what to cook, because to me, food=fun and fun=party, therefore food=party (and I thought basic math principles could never apply to everyday life). A party is a free pass for me to cook anything I want, regardless of decadence or practicality. And when I spent two days in the kitchen rolling out crackers, dropping diced onions on the just-mopped floor, and using almost every bowl and stirring implement in the house, my mom’s progress turned into a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of thing.

Below: Chickpeas about to become hummus. Tis a far, far better thing they do now than they have ever done.

I decided on a people-pleasing, party-appropriate menu of crackers and three dips, pizza, and brownies and carrot cake. I also insisted that I make it all, including the crackers. My mother pointed out that you can buy crackers at the store, but why buy them when you can bake them? I’m just another unemployed college grad living with my parents—I got time. I could also just have ordered some Domino’s and cracked open a package of Oreos, but would you have wanted to be at that party? I think not.

Below: sesame crackers, before and after.

And so over the course of two and a half days, I made sesame crackers, olive oil wheat thin crackers, pita chips (okay, I bought the pita. At that point, my blood had turned to flour and I had had enough), hummus, guacamole, a fig date apricot haroseth, Margherita pizza, and a caramelized onion pizza with fig, chevre, and prosciutto, along with brownies and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. There were fresh fruits and vegetables, but I bought those too. I don’t have THAT much time.

Below: Brownies, so decadent, my hips thank me that I don’t like chocolate.

Perhaps I’m crazy. Perhaps I take the cooking thing a little too far. But I don’t care; cooking is my escape. It’s so refreshing to just think about a recipe with logical steps and a tangible (ingestible) outcome. Having been in an intense academic environment for what seems like an eternity, I feel like I lost connection with what it’s like to actually do something. Writing a paper or studying for a test is not doing something, it’s enduring something on the way to achieving an abstract, and likely totally unrelated, goal.
Carrot cake: totally relevant and so concrete you can see it on my hips.

Carrot cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ cup canola oil*
4 large eggs
3 cups grated carrots
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter desired cake pan (it makes enough for two 9-inch cake pans, but I used and 11×13-inch square pan) and line pan with parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment paper, then tap out excess flour.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Whisk sugar and oil in a large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Add the flour mix and stir until blended. Stir in the carrots and ginger. Pour the batter into pan(s).

Bake until a tester toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Times vary depending on the pan.

*I used a cup of apple sauce and ¼ cup of oil instead, and the cake came out perfectly moist.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 8-oz packages cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the first three ingredients in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Cover and refrigerate until the frosting is firm enough to spread, at least 15 minutes.

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