Thursday, June 9, 2016

Graduation Open Houses a Time of Celebration, and Fear

(From the June 9, 2016 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune). 

There are many things that can instill fear into people these days. Public speaking, heights, taxes, extreme weather or ISIS come to mind. But nothing compares to the fear caused by the need to prepare food for a high school graduation open house.

My wife and I don’t have kids. But we have nephews. And when one of them graduated this year, we were placed on duty to prepare pasta salad for his open house. Should be easy, right? It’s only pasta, it’s only salad.

But it’s for a graduation open house. We usually prepare food for just the two of us, and occasionally a few guests. But we were talking a lot of people here, or potentially a lot of people. It was frightful to plan. How would we know we had enough?

My sister-in-law told us about how many people to expect, and then she looked on line for information about how much food to prepare when you’re having certain numbers of people. I’m not sure of her source, but I was wondering if she factored in size of each person, time of day, other dishes being prepared, average appetite, apparent wind speed, and the correlation of age, gender, ethnicity, and talkativeness with quantity of food consumption. I’m a scientist.

But my sister-in-law just gave us a certain number of cups and said bring that much pasta salad. So we went with that.

Or that was the plan. My wife was concerned that we would have enough. Not just enough pasta salad, but enough of each ingredient. Would there be enough marinated red onions? Should we add more cucumber? Perhaps, just to be safe, we should seed and cut and slice a few more bell peppers.

To divert ourselves from anxiety about the quantities of ingredients, we entered into a lengthy debate about the relative merits of crinkle cutting versus straight slicing the cucumber. A crinkle cut would be better to hold the dressing, particularly if the dressing is lacking in viscosity, sort of like a thinner motor oil. I panicked: what should be the drip rate of a pasta salad dressing?! Our dressing blended two unique ingredients, which I won’t share with you, even though they were in a simple recipe on the pasta box, but the point is I don’t know if it was a 5w-30 or 10w-30 dressing.

We decided to crinkle cut, to be safe. And as long as we were being safe, we decided to do a few more cucumbers. And peppers. And all of the marinated red onions. We also, after carefully considering how many of the boxes of pasta we really needed, decided to be safe here too and go with all of them. We know how to use our noodles.

My sister-in-law, meanwhile, was engaged in what she called meatball madness. Hundreds of meatballs were rolled and cooked. They came in turkey, ham, beef and veggie varieties.  And there were cheese plates, and cookies, and fruit and varieties of other things.

So, the big day came. Did we have enough? That would be an understatement. We had plenty. More than enough. Way too much. One variable we did not consider—people coming to this open house had been to several previously on the same day. Even my nephew’s hungry young friends had already consumed pig roast, burgers and other food only hours before. Our fatal flaw was assuming people were hungry. We were novices when it came to the competitive landscape of the modern graduation open house.

So we have lots of leftovers. We are freezing some. But what we will be having for dinner for the foreseeable future is not in question. There will be pasta salad, no surprise there. Beyond that, the forecast is cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

I don’t recall this open house mania when I graduated from high school. I only remember after the ceremony being stranded outside the fieldhouse. My parents were nowhere to be seen. In those days it was not wise to be in downtown Grand Rapids after dark, and I certainly did not want to be so while wearing a gown of all things. I did catch a ride from a friend and when I got home my mom said she thought that was the plan. My dad just looked at her and said “he still lives here?” There wasn’t even any food.

Anyway, maybe it is a good thing there are so many graduation open houses. We have others to attend, even though we are not on the hook to bring anything. Normally it would be nice to be invited to an open house to get some food, but now I’m looking forward to leaving some. I’ll have my wife distract the hosts while I nestle a tray of our leftover pasta salad between the ham and buns and potato chips. No one will know, until the last guests have left and the poor hosts clean up and contemplate all the leftovers. They probably will have wondered if they would have enough. Now they’ll be wondering who brought the pasta salad.


If you are having a graduation open house, be afraid. You’ve been warned.

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