Graduating Advice & Strawberries in Cointreau

It’s graduation season. Politicians, celebrities and the wisest among us take to podiums and blather on about one thing or another. In most cases, they offer some kind of advice. These important people extol the virtues of goal setting and hard work. They like to use phrases like dream big, dare to fail and never give up. They hope to inspire the next generation to climb mountains, reach for the stars and seek the truth … or some such thing.

My advice is simpler, much simpler. Learn to cook. In an age of fast food and microwave dinners, it’s tempting to give the kitchen a pass. Don’t. Cooking is both creative and calming. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will delight in combining ingredients in new and different ways. Plus, the rhythmic stirring and chopping will calm you after a busy day. Knowing how to cook will feed your stomach and your soul. (It will also help you save money to pay off those student loans.)

When I look at life and work, cooking stands out for one particular reason. It can bring almost instant gratification. For so much of what we do, progress is not measured in hours but in weeks, months or years. A book can take years to write, rewrite and write again. A teacher will work for months hoping for a breakthrough with reluctant students. Complicated business projects take weeks or months to complete. As for raising kids, tending a garden, building and maintain strong and happy relationships – these are never-ending works in progress.

But cooking – even Thanksgiving, the biggest of all holiday feasts is prepped, cooked and served in a couple of days. With a little planning, a weekend dinner party can be tossed together in an afternoon and an any-day-of-the-week meal is done in an hour. As for the reward – you will taste it immediately. Better yet, you will see it in the smiles and hear it in the animated chatter and laughter around the table. A good meal with people you love will make your heart sing.

Which brings me to my next point – invite friends and family to eat with you. Food is more than sustenance; eating is a communal rite. A meal is meant to be shared. Food tastes better when served with a side of stimulating conversation, harmless banter and silly jokes.

Perhaps a dinner party, even the idea, scares the bejeebers out of you. Don’t let it. In the words of Julia Child, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize,” So what if the soup is a little spicy or the dog steals the turkey? If anyone remembers, it will be another great story to tell and retell. Sure, you’ll look back at some of your mishaps with a grimace but, more important, you’ll also look back with a giggle.

To close, I have two utterly practical suggestions. First, get a big bowl. Only the most timid of cooks can make do with one of those nesting sets of three. You won’t use that giant bowl every day but you’ll be happy to have it. I have a couple, a big one at eight quarts and a really big one at fourteen. Cooking requires a lot of tossing and mixing – give yourself plenty of room to do it with gusto.

Second, start every party with an empty dishwasher. Like it or not, even the loveliest of evenings do come to an end. Eventually, you must clear the table. Cleanup is faster and easier if you can immediately stack all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and yes, I know many first (even second) apartments don’t have dishwashers. This rule also applies to the sink. It should be empty of dirty dishes when your guests arrive.

Have a wonderful life filled with happy friends around table. Bon appétit!

Strawberries in Cointreau
Sometimes the simplest of desserts can be the most delicious – especially when local strawberries are coming into season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved, depending on size
About 2 ounces Cointreau
Zest of 1 orange
Brown sugar to taste
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a bowl large enough for tossing. Drizzle with Cointreau, sprinkle with orange zest and gently toss. If necessary, add a little brown sugar and toss again.

Let the strawberries sit for about 10 minutes while you put the dinner dishes in the sink to soak or fill the dishwasher.

Toss again and serve the strawberries with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Southwest Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago – Cherry Cobbler
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Five Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Seven Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Eight Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Nine Years Ago – Asian Slaw

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What advice would you give to this year’s new graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017