To All the College Kids: Come Back For Snacks

I am surrounded by young men and I love it. It's summer and everyone is around. My older son finished his summer job and moved back home for a minute before starting college. My younger son finished two weeks at squash camp. They brought their friends with them. Five teenage boys in total. What to feed them?

My younger son and his friend walked to the grocery store to buy provisions. They returned with a six-pack of Dr. Pepper, a can of Pringles and a package of Oreos. I nearly had a heart attack. But I was busy working and did not go to the grocery store to repair the damage. When my older son showed up with his two friends, I was still not prepared. "The guys are hungry," my older son whispered. We had hummus and tortilla chips and two chunks of old cheese. I put it all out. Then we took the younger kids out for dinner and the older boys drove themselves somewhere else.

The second day, I decided to properly feed the troops. All five boys had slept downstairs. My husband and I slept upstairs. When everyone woke up, I tiptoed down. Wet towels piled on chairs. Dirty clothes on the floor. Bathing suits hanging off railings. Beds not made. Soda cans strewn around. I was sure there were beer cans hidden somewhere. My husband and I have a little bit of an OCD thing going. Should I ask the kids to clean up before I had a nervous breakdown? I shook my head no. It was summer. Leave them be. Go grocery shopping. Attempt to establish order by making guacamole and grilled flatbread pizzas. I told my husband my plan. He made a face.

"Don't bother," he said. "No one will appreciate it and no one will help clean up."

Maybe. And yet, I am still mother. Cooking is all I have left to give them. They both tower over me. They have friends, jobs, plans. They need me for almost nothing, except the occasional ride somewhere and money. Plus, I had made these grilled flatbread pizzas for my older son's 19th birthday. We had had 19 people over and I had cooked for hours, making pesto chicken and fruit cobbler, grilled flatbread pizza and guacamole. The guacamole was apparently so good that my older son started calling me "Laura Guac Fromm." You see why I love him? My husband said the flatbread pizzas were so good he thought they had come from a caterer. But it had all disappeared so quickly that I hadn't tasted any of it once it left the kitchen. In a more relaxed setting, I wanted to sample this stuff. And what my husband really didn't understand was that I wanted our boys and their friends to stick around. If you have food in the house, they will come. If you make something delicious, they will stay.

I started preparing the flatbread dough. Then my brother and sister-in-law showed up, with their three teenage boys. Game on. There was no question I was making afternoon snacks now. My brother is a great cook and he would want to go to work in the kitchen. While Mike mashed up the avocados and squeezed the lemons, I chopped the onion and kneaded the dough. I love kneading dough. You can press your stress right into it. Lift, push, turn. Put it in the oven, and if you're lucky, it will rise and turn into something wonderful without you.

After a little while, all eight boys started to filter into the kitchen. "Anything to eat?" my older son said. "Yes," I said. "Just wait five minutes and don't eat the Oreos." I handed him a bag of tortilla chips and some salsa and told him to start with that.

This guacamole recipe comes from Ina Garten, whose recipes from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook are pretty much foolproof. The secret ingredient here is Tabasco sauce. As for the flatbread pizzas, if you are too lazy or tired to make the flatbread dough, just go to your local pizza parlor and ask to buy some dough from them. You will need six small pizzas' worth and they will be fine. But if you make the dough from scratch, you will have a bunch of very happy campers.

I remember so well when my children were small; When I wished them long naps so I could get something done, and often looked to my mother, mother-in-law and babysitters to help me. When their three meals a day were on me and they only left the house if I took them somewhere. Now I can't wait for them to wake up, hope for one meal together and do a little happy dance when they stay, at least for a while.

My sister-in-law wept as she said goodbye to my older son, who leaves for college today. My eyes stayed dry until I wrote this piece.

To all the kids going away to college this fall, from the parents who have been feeding them: We love you. Come back for snacks.

Four-Avocado Guacamole
4 ripe Haas avocados
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
8 dashes Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

1. Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (You can use your hands.)
2. Add the lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well.
3. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced.
4. Add the tomatoes.
5. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

Basic Flatbread Dough (6 pizzas, adapted from Kathleen K. Sanderson)
1 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup corn meal or semolina flour (I used corn meal)
2 1/2-3 cups flour

1. Combine water and sugar in a stainless bowl. Sprinkle with yeast and cover, let stand for 5 minutes. (Mixture will foam.) Stir in yeast and let rest 1 minute.
2. Add salt and oil to yeast, stir in corn meal, 1 1/2 cups flour and mix well. Add remaining flour in 1/4 cup intervals until dough is stiff enough to turn onto a floured surface. Knead dough 5-6 minutes, adding flour as needed.
3. Place dough into a large (3 times the dough size) lightly oiled bowl and let rest covered in a warm place 45 minutes-1 hour. Punch dough down and knead slightly, let relax 5 minutes.

For flatbreads:
1. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll dough into circles on a lightly floured board.
2. Prick each round with a fork 8-10 times. Lightly brush dough with olive oil.
3. On a preheated grill place the rounds (I put the six rounds on two cookie sheets and cooked them under a broiler.)
4. Cook 1-1/2 minutes or until marked and firm. Turn.
5. Sprinkle with tomato/mozzarella topping (see recipe below) and continue to cook 1 1/2-2 minutes,

Grilled Flatbread Topping: Sun-Dried Tomatoes Mozzarella & Basil
Top each round of grilled bread with the following:
1/4 cup slivered sun dried tomatoes
1 thin sliced Roma tomato
4-5 thin slices fresh mozzarella
Shredded fresh basil
Sprinkle of Parmesan

Laura Zinn Fromm is the author of Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking & Coping, published by Greenpoint Press, available from Amazon, BN.Com, Words Bookstore, Watchung Booksellers, Parnassus, Bookworm, Book Passage, Bloomingdale's and Canyon Ranch.

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