The following collection of tried-and-true recipes is brought to you by the discriminating tastebuds of one very special graduate with big congratulations wishes to the entire class of 2020! 🎓
It’s graduation day!
(Update: It’s now tomorrow thanks to the rain. If there’s one thing we’re getting good at, it’s learning to pivot!)
Suffice it to say, however, that nobody ever expected that 13 years in the same K-12 school would be capped off with a drive-by graduation. As such, I’m dedicating this weekend to a little reflection and a lot of Christian’s favorite foods.
Most of Christian’s top picks have been quite popular with our extended family and friends over the years, so I’m optimistic that you’ll find a few things to try. (Oh, and I wrapped things up with a new bonus recipe, chosen by the graduate himself!)
If you asked Christian, he’d probably tell you that what he missed most over the months of quarantine was his senior year lacrosse season. Sure, it would have been nice to have all the other special events, like senior prom, awards banquets, and the many end-of-year traditions specific to his school－to say nothing of the final days with the many friends and teachers who’ve been an incredibly meaningful part of his life.
In the early part of quarantine, Christian heard from the colleges to which he had applied in the fall. That brought a welcome dose of excitement and hope for the future. But now, whether or not he will even be able to start his freshman year in the fall is unknown.
As a parent, I’ve tried to strike a balance over the last few months of lock-down. On one hand, I’ve attempted to validate all that he is missing and the uncertainty that lies ahead. It’s a bummer for sure. On the other hand, I’ve reminded him how, in the big picture, we are very lucky.
Perspective is a handy tool to have in your box a good day; it’s invaluable during the devastation of a global pandemic. We have to look for the silver linings. Adversity and disappointment also build resilience, which is critically important throughout life’s inevitable ups and downs.
In his televised graduation speech to the class of 2020, former President Barack Obama summed it up well: “America’s gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.”
That’s the message I want both of my sons to learn from this crisis.
✺ ✺ ✺ ✺ ✺
Throughout quarantine, I’ve done lots of “little things” for my family: favorite chai lattes magically appearing as they participated in online classes; Wednesday night family Survivor; destination walks; and too many pans of brownies (and blondies!).
I felt the need to keep everyone’s spirits up, but even as I did these things, I’ve marveled at how my kids have actually been my sustaining force during quarantine.
Soon enough, both of my boys will be away at college. This knowledge has helped me to truly savor the abundance of togetherness (and dirty laundry and food consumption!). Their consistent positive energy and genuine appreciation for my efforts has made a big difference. I know they weren’t always feeling it, but they stayed upbeat, and it rubbed off.
So while a drive-by graduation isn’t what anyone hoped for, it is a rather creative way to honor these students and their many years of hard work. Their school has gone to great efforts to make the occasion meaningful, there will be a celebratory dinner (see #1, 4 and 9 below), and ultimately the memories may be more indelible than they would have been under ordinary circumstances.
The class of 2020 won’t be celebrating together, but they will be bonded in a way no one ever predicted. I am incredibly proud of Christian and all of his friends and wish I could give them all a big hug.
And to Christian, never could I have imagined when you were this little kindergartener ⇩⇩ how proud you would make me. I’ve told you and John many times over the years that, when it came to being a Mom, I won the lottery. Your creative spirit, determination, endless energy, optimistic outlook, and ability to relate with all types of people has not only been an inspiration to me, but a genuine gift.
Now let’s eat!
Christian’s Top 10 recipes (and the runner ups!)
This recipe most definitely makes Christian’s all-time top three, and it will be his graduation night dinner. For those who prefer to keep all the cooking outside, this recipe for Slow Grilled Baby Back Ribs is every bite as mouth-watering, and though the ribs do cook over several hours, the work is mostly hands-off.
Christian is an upbeat guy, but If I ever needed to cheer him up, these wings would probably do the job! (The recipes shown directly above and below would likely work, too!) There’s a simple trick for creating crisp skin and a choice of sauces offers a little something for everyone. Christian likes all of the sauces, so I often make the easiest “bare bones” option, which despite the name, is classically delicious and not lacking a thing.
One need not wait for game day to enjoy these nachos! Two types of chips are used for maximum crunch, and Christian considers them to be the gold standard of nachos. Loaded with flavorful toppings (and a hint of health appeal), this appetizer always disappears quickly, and Christian has sold us on the merits of enjoying as an occasional meal!
4. Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese
When I referred to the top 3, above, I completely overlooked the obvious (to the point that I had to move a recipe to honorable mention-status and insert this one)! I’ve made countless batches of this mac and cheese over the years, which is sure to make Christian VERY happy after a long school day. Because he is so demonstrative about his love for this recipe, I tend to save any leftovers for him and him alone. The gluten-free adaptation is spot-on, and as beholden as Christian is to this recipe, he will tell you that he cannot discern the difference between the regular and GF version. (If anyone has any questions on the latter, feel free to ask!)
Anything with egg and avocado will make Christian perk up, and nothing more so that this speedy meal. I prepare a batch of Easy Peel Eggs to have on hand, although you can cook a quick over-easy, poached, or even scrambled egg and make this variation. The open-faced sandwich provides a filling meal that tastes great any time day and has the added benefit of complete protein (egg), heart-healthy fats (avocado), and whole grains (bread).
As I mentioned above, Christian adores avocado…and guacamole! Over the years, I’ve whipped up this quick guacamole for him countless times, usually as an after-school snack, and it always made him so happy to have his own little bowl to enjoy with tortilla chips. (When he was younger, I’d actually divide it into two small bowls…and don’t miss the tip for preventing avocados and guacamole from browning!) Of course, this recipe is equally ideal when you’d like some guacamole to enhance dinner and only need a small amount, are short on time, or simply have just one ripe avocado.
7. Healthier Spreadable Butter (This entry may surprise you, but it’s true!)
Nothing makes Christian happier than cinnamon toast for breakfast or a big, crusty piece of bread on his dinner plate. (See bonus recipe at bottom of page!) Believe it or not, he prefers this soft, spreadable butter, which is made soft and spreadable thanks to an omega-3-rich addition. Use it as a spread, just as you’d use regular butter－on toast, baked potatoes, etc.
8. Chai Lattes
The best part about this perfectly spiced recipe is that you create a concentrate that can be stored in the fridge and enjoyed as desired. Simply top off with your milk of choice. We typically add ice, although you may warm if preferred. I’ve been making iced lattes and quietly delivering them to the dining room, where Christian is set up for his online classes, for an occasional and always appreciated quarantine surprise.
9. Mud Pie
Besides tasting fabulous, this frozen treat offers prep-ahead convenience that can be done in simple steps as time allows. For freshest flavor and best texture, I make the easy homemade crust (there’s a spot-on GF option, too), although you could use a prepared cookie crust. Christian especially loves it when I use homemade Salted Hot Fudge Sauce, which can also be made ahead and keeps for several months in the refrigerator. But again, your favorite store-bought may absolutely be used. For added value, feel free to use this recipe as a framework for a variety of desserts, mixing up the ice cream flavors and toppings.
10. Christian’s Corn Flake Nachos
This may seem strange, but Corn Flake Nachos are surprisingly tasty and smell amazing as they cook. One would think the flakes would become soggy with this method of preparation, but they do not. Over the years, Christian has probably made these for himself more than anything else. (I found a picture of Christian snacking on these at age 13, below, and snapped a quick photo last week, when he was taking a break from his online classes…and, like so many of us, in desperate need of a quarantine haircut!)
Somehow, we far exceeded 10 favorites, so following is a top 10 runner ups list!
- Favorite Strawberry Salad (and also Classic Strawberry Salad with this Sweet Poppy Seed Vinaigrette)
- Super Crunchy Oven Fried Drumsticks
- Meadow Tea
- Refrigerator Dill Pickles
- Crunchy Top Strawberry Baked Oatmeal
- Wild Mushroom Pizza (I know…this from the guy that never liked mushrooms!)
- Walking Tacos
- Speedy Mexican Pizzas
- Congo Bars
- Nutella Brownies
Christian also thinks the fact that I have never posted my egg taco or classic egg sandwich recipe is shocking, as they most definitely make his favorites list and I’ve made them more times than either of us could possibly count. Believe it or not, he feels the same way about broccoli, specifically the method I use to roast it very quickly. (I guess that just means you’ll have to stick with me to see the many recipes that haven’t made these pages, even after all these years!😉)
I did promise a bonus recipe, right?
This simple recipe rounds out a light meal of soup or salad quite nicely, and it pairs equally well with a variety of pasta dishes. I also serve it as a meal bolsterer in place of another starch like potatoes or rice.
After mixing the ingredients (which takes a few minutes), simply cover and rest in the refrigerator overnight. This extended, hands-off rise is the key to success. The following day, the dough can be distributed between two pans, left to rise on the counter for a couple of hours and then baked. So easy!
You can cut this easy focaccia bread into wedges or crossways, into strips. A fun idea is to cut the focaccia into strips and then crisp it in a pan: simply brush the cut sides with olive oil and then “toast” until golden in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Served this way, the bread provides an especially lovely addition to soup.
For my gluten-free friends, I have not had equal success substituting a cup-for-cup GF blend for all-purpose flour in yeasted breads. I find the best GF bread recipes tend to include psyllium seed husk.
- 4 cups (508g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet)
- 2 cups warm tap water (about 110℉－or hot tub warm, but not scalding)
- 1 teaspoon soft butter for greasing pan
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
- Dried Italian seasoning or finely chopped fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme
- Flaky sea salt for topping
Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Stir well. Add the warm water. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix until the flour is well incorporated (there should be no small pockets of flour). Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil into a medium bowl. Transfer the dough to that bowl and turn to coat the dough with the oil. Tightly cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. (I think overnight creates slightly better texture.)
Getting ready to bake: Lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. Pour ½ tablespoon of olive oil into the center of each pan. Divide the dough in half (if you have a scale you can weigh to make sure the pieces are equal; otherwise just eyeball it), and place one piece of dough in each pan, turning to coat with the oil. Tuck the edges of dough underneath as needed to form a rough disc shape. Cover each pan tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the dough balls to rest for 2 hours. (Depending on the warmth of your kitchen, this may take slightly less time. Conversely, if your kitchen is cool, this could take as long as 3 hours. Look for the dough to fill most of the pan.)
To bake: Preheat oven to 450℉ with a rack positioned in the center of the oven. Evenly drizzle another tablespoon of oil over each round of dough. With oiled fingers and using both hands, press straight down to the bottom of the pan to create deep dimples. Sprinkle the tops with Italian seasoning or fresh herbs and flaky sea salt. Transfer the pans to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 425˚F. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Remove the pans from the oven. With a metal spatula remove bread rounds from the pans and transfer to a cooling rack.
Serve warm or allow to cool completely, and then store in a zip-top bag.
To freeze: Allow the bread to cool completely. Transfer to a zip-top bag and freeze. Thaw and enjoy at room temperature or warm for 10 minutes in a 350℉ oven.
•Bread flour may be used, but it isn’t necessary. Bread flour is higher in protein and is supposed to create more stability and rise in the dough. That said, I tend to use good old all-purpose flour with very good results.
•Be sure to grease your pan with butter and line it with parchment paper. To easily cut parchment rounds that fit perfectly in the pans, simply trace the bottom of the pan and then cut just inside of the line. Pre-cut parchment rounds may also be used.
•If after storing leftovers in the refrigerator for a day (or several) they seem dry, I wrap the amount I wish to serve in a paper towel that I’ve wet and then wrung out completely. Microwave the wrapped bread for 20－30 seconds, or until it feels softer, and then warm the rest of the way (without the damp paper towel) in the toaster or regular oven (at 350℉) to ever-so-lightly crisp it.
•To use the bread for sandwiches, allow it to cool completely, and then use a bread knife to cut horizontally to form two thinner rounds.
Isn’t it crazy how you can get lost in time while looking at old photos? And the memories they bring back! Sort of like the recipes above, it was hard to narrow down the choices, but I will sign off with a few of my favorites from over the years!
Congratulations to Christian and all of his fellow 2020 classmates! I LOVE this week’s column …what a fitting tribute to Christian! The “gifts” that your sons have given you are simply a reflection of the love, caring, and support that you and your husband have shared with them over the years … congrats to you as well!
Anne, I so appreciate your kind words…thank you! We had the drive-through graduation and it was awesome! Not the typical graduation mind you, but incredibly special in its own unique way. The teachers lined the path in their cars and cheered loudly, and the positive energy and celebratory feelings were not lacking one bit!
congratulations to your son and the whole family!
Congratulations, Christian and the class of 2020!! My daughter graduated from Millersville University on May 9!!
Thank you and congratulations to your daughter, too, Tali. That’s fantastic!
Congratulations, Christian, to you and your family on your High School Graduation, and every good wish in your future endeavors! God Bless!
Many thanks from all of us, Barbara!
Congratulations and best wishes Christian and fellow graduates!!
Thank you, Susan!
props to my granddaughter Meg, graduating today from Hill.