Thursday, June 12, 2014


I saw her hair before I could clearly see her face but it was the beauty of all that blondness that let me know it was Emmy. Her High School colors are blue and silver. The interpretation of which shade of blue or how the silver sometimes morphs into white allowed for their caps and gowns to be a sea of baby blue all the more poignant giving the magnitude of this milestone.
As your baby turns from a newborn to a toddler or transitions from middle school to high school you know your child is still under your wing, but high school graduation is different. The choice of baby blue gowns only emphasized the rapid nature of time. Our daughter had somehow managed to grow from that helpless newborn into a young woman now ready for taking on all the responsibilities of a young adult. Children slip from one stage to another so quickly and before you can process the whole thing they've graduated high school and are looking toward a life where their wings are ready for flight, a life more centered on their own goals and passions, a life where their mistakes and successes are going to be tabulated on a slate you no longer control.
She smiled as she walked up the aisle past our seats and applause. We yelled as loudly as we could when she crossed the stage to pick up her diploma and cross her tassel from the right to the left. There was such joy and expectation as her class threw their caps in the air at the end of the ceremony, a baby blue sky of hope and expectation above their heads.

Midwest tradition has the parents of each high school graduate throwing a party for friends and family, a symbolic gesture, a rite of passage. We, of course, marked each birthday but none seemed more important than this event so, of course, we went whole hog or in this case: whole cheese. We are in Wisconsin after all.
We threw caution to the wind crossing our fingers against the weekly weather report that went from partly cloudy to thunder storms. At ten o'clock the night before the report was still forecasting rain at a 40% chance starting at eight in the morning. We'd scheduled the party from one to four in the afternoon. Things weren't looking good.
We woke up early Saturday morning expecting to see a blanket of thick wet grey wool blocking out the sun. The weatherman got it wrong again. The sky was cloudless and the yard was dappled with bits of shade sprinkled around shifting patches of verdant green.
We were off to the Farmer's Market for flowers and chocolate croissants for the late risers still back at home. We came back with lupine, peonies and irises that we arranged in French flower buckets and ironstone pitchers.
There's a new food cart on the Square called "Melt". It takes advantage of a new surge in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. I had checked with the owner about catering our event but we were too small and I don't think they liked my menu suggestions, so we hired a mother daughter team who had helped out with a previous event to be our chefs. It turns out Erin, our mother cook, was initially filled with fear about taking on the grilled cheese challenge. Apparently she had had a long history with burning her grilled cheeses. I had done a test the night before and we had Erin and Amelia show up two hours before the event so we could practice. They were terrific. We offered three different varieties.
The first was an Italian inspired version. We paired mozzarella with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, prosciutto, salt and pepper on a multigrain bread soaked in olive oil.
I took the time to test out various combinations of cheeses and ingredients. Then I scoured the net for info on grilled cheese prep spending my evenings reading about the best way of make a grilled cheese. As part of my research I ate so much cheese it's a wonder I wasn't constipated for weeks. What I found out was the best way to make a great grilled cheese is with thinly sliced bread and grated cheese. This way the cheese has the best chance of properly melting without burning the bread. You can use either butter or olive oil to grill with. Let the griddle get hot before you start and then use a wide spatula to press the sandwich into the grill. I happen to like olive oil. I spread the inside of the bread first then add my ingredients, close the sandwich and spread oil on the top outside slice. I use the oil on the griddle for the other side of the sandwich. This way I can pick up the sandwich without having to get my hands full of oil.
For a second selection with put together a more traditional sandwich with cheddar, Monterey Jack and asiago on sourdough and for that surprising little burst of tang we added a layer of Dijon mustard.
Our final concoction was a combination of sun-dried cherries, shredded arugula, chopped walnuts and feta on multigrain bread. It was our biggest risk but it turned out to be our biggest hit.
For those unwilling to leap into the world of gourmet grilled cheese we set up two quesadilla makers which basically made grilled cheese on a tortilla.
To finish off the meal and before dessert we set out Caesar salad
and hollowed out watermelons filled with mixed berries.
The dessert table was inside. For every one of Emmy's birthdays Rick has made her a chocolate cake based on a Martha Stewart recipe covered with Mrs. Milman's frosting. For her graduation Rick modified this into four-dozen cupcakes. We added fake s'mores on sticks stuck in a moss covered faux Appalachian mountain and two rhubarb crisps that were so good I couldn't even get a picture of them before they were gone.
Food is a big part of any party but the biggest part is the guests. Friends, relatives and classmates showed up in the dozens.
There's never enough time to have a meaningful conversation with all the guests, even a few of them but the sounds of laughter were coming up from the fire pit
and from along the twenty-four feet of harvest table stretched out across the backyard somewhere in between the sun and an approaching storm let us all know the party had been a success. We don't have to do this for college do we?
Oh, by the way she cleaned up pretty good.

Untitled, 1999
Gonzalo Puch, photographer
Represented by Julie Saul Gallery, NYC

1 comment:

  1. Congrats to all of you. Looks like a great party and I love the menu. I just learned the grated cheese tip not long ago!