high school graduation. the words stir such a range of emotions for me. mostly, gratefulness that i’m done with the drama and erratic emotions. but, i’d lie if i said i didn’t have some twinges of the nostalgia looking back. just twinges, though. ha. oh the spazziness of high school gwen. the spazziness is still here, though. i think it’s sticking around for the long haul.

regardless, i had the delightful honor and privilege to journey to athens, ohio, for my cousin ava’s graduation. folks, it’s official: all lawrence family grandchildren have graduated. we’re adults (gasp) now. all five of us. WILD. i headed south after soccer on thursday. stopped in ada to pick up nanny and poppy and uncle jeff, then in columbus to pick up mom, then a stop for ice cream (!) , then onward to athens. nothing like squishing 5 adults (who like to overpack) and a grocery list of perishable food stuff (including 8 pounds of asparagus and a flat of strawberries from a lovely ohio farm!) in a 5 passenger car. suffice it to say we were all glad to arrive to the humid, eighty degree athens. the lawrence family represented for ms. ava jae, the baby of our family.

my aunt juli and uncle john know how to throw a party. all of the millers do. actually, all of the lawrences do. food and flowers really dominate most of the thought of that entire side of my family. pretty fantastic, really.

what excited me most was my responsibilities the day of graduation. to let my aunt and uncle go and enjoy the graduation, i happily stuck at the home front with a handful of family to prep for the party to follow. and the preparations we had! the menu, extensive. fruit kabobs. peppered pork. rolls with pickles, peppers, and mustard. cheese tray with white cheddar, gouda, maytag bleu, swiss, and pepperjack. my mom’s baby mustard roasted potatoes. asparagus spears, 1/2 vegetarian 1/2 wrapped in prosciutto. antipasto platter with olives. rye boat. tomato mozzarella sandwiches with sweet onions, basil, and balsamic, in perhaps the best ciabatta bread i’ve ever worked with or tasted. some sort of beef lollipop. this table was PACKED. (look below the recipes for more pictures!)

so i know this is a poor quality photo. for whatever reason, the picture refuses to upload. GRRR. so here's my improvise.

the dessert table equally packed: angel food cake cubed. hand whipped cream. farm fresh strawberries. brownies. oreo balls. rhubarb bars. and fortune cookies.

and my job? to help orchestrate the food prep, presentation, and clean up. it was AMAZING. i had a ball. my uncle john comes from a catering family, and is also and amazing and organized chef. so i followed his directions (which were clear and written out) and everything came together so nicely. i think we could go into business.

you ask, my favorite item at the graduation party of ms. ava jae? the BRUSCHETTA. yes, friends. there’s no betta bruschetta. and that is a fact.

we had two types: the roasted tomato and the caramelized onion. my uncle john had prepped the spreads previously. my job was easy: cut bread on an angle. brush garlic oil on both sides of slices. toast. smear the spread. sprinkle cheese, nuts, etc. bake again. sprinkle ribbons of basil. DONE. i’m telling you, the flavor, the depth, the intensity of these spreads– UNBELIEVABLE.

and so i give you the rough recipes from these spreads. thanks to uncle john for sending them my way. he also said to use the roasted tomato spread on pasta. i think you could put it on pretty much anything and it would be great. enjoy!

roasted tomato and garlic spread
*this is doubled, per recommendation of uncle john

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12-14 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red-hot chili flakes
12-14 medium-sized ripe tomatoes (about 6 pounds)
1 cup fresh basil leaves
coarse salt
2 tablespoons capers
3 teaspoons anchovy paste

1. preheat oven to 375. in a 9×13 in pan, combine oil, garlic, and red chili flakes. add tomatoes and gently toss.
2. roast, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
3. stir in chopped basil and 1 teaspoon salt, roast for additional 15 minutes.
4. stir in capers and anchovy paste. roast until tomatoes darken and juices concentrate, an additional 25-40 minutes.
5. as i didn’t make this spread, just used it, i would guess to puree it if it’s not already sauced up. it will be thick, lush, delicious. a deep reddish brown. serve this on the bruschetta, topped with fresh mozzarella, fresh parmesan, and basil.

roasted garlic and caramelized onion spread

2-3 large red onions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1. roast garlic (i might do more than 12 cloves. i love garlic.) in a 350 degree oven. drizzle it first with the veggie oil, cover with a lid and let roast for 30-4o minutes.
2. meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat. and add onions and saute until they begin to brown, after 15 minutes. add brown sugar, and stir in until melted. these become velvety, lush, gorgeous.
3. combine roasted garlic and caramelized onions, add balsamic vinegar. smear on bread, top with toasted pecans and fresh, soft goat cheese.

enjoy these with loved ones. or with un-loved ones. it will make any situation sweeter. other than the graduation itself, these babies made ms. ava jae’s day in my book.

the graduate with the fam (minus jake who's in china)